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What are the different types of hepatitis C?

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Story at-a-glance -

  • People with acute hepatitis C may experience symptoms, but they are usually mild, such as fatigue, fever and vomiting. Only 25% to 35% of HCV-infected people develop symptoms in the acute phase
  • While there is no definite correlation between the types of genotype and the risk of liver damage or cirrhosis, there is some data that suggest that people with genotype 1 HCV (particularly subtype 1b) have a greater risk of cirrhosis compared to other genotypes

There are two ways by which hepatitis C can be classified. The first one is the duration of the disease: how long it stays in the body, and whether it clears up or worsens over time. The second is by its genotype. Keep on reading to learn more about these hepatitis C classifications.

Hepatitis C can be acute or chronic

Although hepatitis C is typically divided into acute hepatitis C and chronic hepatitis C, they’re the same disease. The primary difference between them is how long they stay in the body. Acute hepatitis C means the disease is mild and only stays in the body for a few weeks, while chronic refers to a serious illness that can last your whole life.1

These two can also be defined as “stages” of hepatitis C. When you first become infected with HCV, you develop acute hepatitis C. This phase refers to the six-month period after the virus has entered and stayed in the body. Acute hepatitis C patients may experience symptoms, but they are usually very mild, such as fatigue, fever and vomiting. Only 25% to 35% of HCV-infected people develop symptoms in the acute phase.2

Acute hepatitis C may improve or resolve without treatment. According to the CDC, 15% to 25% of people with acute HCV clear it without any treatment. Unfortunately, for 75% to 85% of those infected, their illness may progress into chronic hepatitis C3 — this means the virus has won over their immune system.4 This is the more damaging stage of the illness.

What makes chronic hepatitis C so dangerous is that it does not cause any symptoms, especially in the early stages, which means people do not know they have it until their condition has worsened.5 Only when cirrhosis or liver damage or failure occurs will patients feel the symptoms, which typically include jaundice, bleeding or bruising easily and dark urine.6

Even without these hallmark signs, people with chronic hepatitis C are still at risk for severe liver ailments, which can be potentially life-threatening.7 Out of 100 chronic hepatitis C patients, 10 to 20 will develop cirrhosis.8 Hepatitis C also increases a person’s risk for liver cancer and other cancers like renal and prostate cancer, as well as Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.9

Hepatitis C can also be classified according to genotype

The term “genotype” is used to classify the hepatitis C virus into certain categories based on the similarity found in their genetic material.10 In 2000,11 there were six distinct genotypes of hepatitis C (some with subtypes) identified throughout the world, which are:12

  • Genotype 1a
  • Genotype 1b
  • Genotype 2a, 2b, 2c and 2d
  • Genotype 3a, 3b, 3c, 3d, 3e and 3f
  • Genotype 4a, 4b, 4c, 4d, 4e, 4f, 4g, 4h, 4i and 4j
  • Genotype 5a
  • Genotype 6a

A more recent study, however, expands this classification. According to the researchers of the 2014 study, published in the journal Hepatology, there are seven hepatitis genotypes and 67 subtypes.13

These different genotypes and subtypes vary in distribution throughout the world. For example, genotype 1 is the most common genotype in the U.S., and is found in 70% of HCV cases in the country. Genotypes 2 and 3 are the next most common types.14

Genotypes 1, 2 and 3 are not confined to the U.S., however, as they are found worldwide. While you won’t find it in Western countries, genotype 4 is prevalent in the Middle East, Central Africa and Egypt,15 with genotype 5 found almost exclusively in South Africa.16 In Southeast Asia, genotype 6 is the most common variation in Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar, while genotype 3 is common in Malaysia and Thailand.17

While there is no definite correlation between the types of genotype and the risk of liver damage or cirrhosis, there are some data that suggest that people with genotype 3 may have more severe liver disease compared to other genotypes.18 This is why knowing which genotype your illness falls under may be essential in determining the necessary treatment for your condition.

MORE ABOUT HEPATITIS C

Hepatitis C: Introduction

What Is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C in Pregnancy

How Do You Get Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C Duration

Is Hepatitis C Contagious?

Hepatitis C Causes

Hepatitis C Types

Hepatitis C Symptoms

Hepatitis C Treatment

Hepatitis C Prevention

Hepatitis C Diet

Hepatitis C FAQ

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