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  1. Hepatitis is a general term that means inflammation of the liver. This inflammation can be caused by infection. Hepatitis can also be caused by exposure to alcohol, certain medications, chemicals, poisons, and other toxins, or by other diseases. Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is one of the many viruses that can cause inflammation of the liver.

    Inflammation of the liver caused by infection with HCV is referred to as hepatitis C.

    * If the inflammation is not reversed, it becomes chronic (ongoing, long term) and can cause chronic liver disease, which can be serious or even fatal.

    * At least 75% of people infected with hepatitis C develop chronic hepatitis C.

    * If the disease progresses to the point at which the liver begins to fail (end stage liver disease), the only treatment is liver transplantation.

    Hepatitis C is an increasing public health concern in the United States and throughout the world.

    * HCV is one of the most common causes of chronic liver disease in the United States and the most common cause of chronic viral hepatitis.

    * It is believed to be the cause of about 15-20% of all cases of acute (new, short term) viral hepatitis and half of all cases of cirrhosis, end-stage liver disease, and liver cancer.

    About 4 million people in the United States have antibodies to HCV, meaning they have been infected with the virus at some point; as many as half of them do not know they have the infection.

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