Anatomy of the liver, stomach and gall bladder

Case study: Hepatitis C

A growing and under-recognised problem

Hepatitis C virus is one of a family of viruses causing inflammation of the liver. In the 1970s doctors in the USA discovered that most cases of hepatitis after blood transfusions were not caused by hepatitis A or B viruses. But it wasn’t until the late 1980s that this newly discovered virus was identified and named hepatitis C.

As many as 150 million people are living with chronic hepatitis C infection, with around half a million dying each year from related diseases. The virus, which is spread by blood-to-blood contact, attacks the liver, causing chronic liver disease and liver cancer.

Hepatitis C is mainly spread by transfusions with unscreened blood products and the use of inadequately sterilised needles and syringes. In the UK transmission is mainly between injecting drug users. New antiviral treatments for use against hepatitis C were approved in 2012. However, the challenge is finding those who are infected – it’s thought that three-quarters of people in the UK who have hepatitis C live with it for at least a decade before they are diagnosed.

In Egypt about 10 per cent of those aged 15–59 are infected, and 165,000 more people are infected every year, largely in hospitals and clinics. The virus spread rapidly between the 1950s and 1980s due to the inadequate sterilisation and reuse of needles used in the treatment of schistosomiasis – a parasitic infection that also causes liver disease, which was then a major public health problem.

By the time oral treatments for schistosomiasis became available, hepatitis C had replaced it as the leading cause of chronic liver disease. Egypt is still struggling to improve standards of care in order to reduce transmissions.

Lead image:

Anatomy of the liver, stomach and gall bladder.

Medical Art Service, Munich/Wellcome Images CC BY NC ND


About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Epidemics’ in September 2007 and reviewed and updated in January 2015.

Microbiology, Immunology, Medicine, Health, infection and disease
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development