Causes of Hepatitis C
All six genotypes of the hepatitis C virus are considered to be causes of hepatitis C. The virus is able to enter liver cells from the blood and then use those cells to make more copies of itself. The hepatitis C virus is spread mostly through infected blood and blood products. Kissing and other normal everyday activities, such as hugging or shaking hands, are not ways of spreading the disease.
The hepatitis C virus is a small, enveloped, single-stranded, RNA virus in the Flaviviridae family. The virus is able to enter liver cells from the blood and then use those cells to make more copies of the hepatitis C virus. As more and more of the hepatitis C virus is made in the liver cells, they can become damaged and may even die.
Just as there are different types of hepatitis viruses, there are also a few different types of the hepatitis C virus itself. Though they all cause hepatitis C, each type of the virus has a slightly different arrangement of its genetic material, in this case called RNA. The specific arrangement of the RNA is called the genotype.
The main hepatitis C genotypes are known simply as genotypes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. Of these different genotypes, genotype 1 is the type most commonly found in the United States. Between 70 to 90 percent of Americans with hepatitis C have this genotype. Hepatitis C virus genotypes 2 and 3 are less common. Only 10 to 20 percent of infected people in the US have either of these genotypes.
The hepatitis C virus is spread mostly through infected blood and blood products, whether it is from working in a laboratory or a dialysis unit, by infected needles used for tattoos or body piercing, or through sharing drug needles. In a very few cases, people have been infected with hepatitis C by sharing objects that may have a very tiny amount of blood on them, such as a toothbrush, razor, or tools used for manicures.
In rare cases, hepatitis C is spread through sexual intercourse. A person cannot get hepatitis C from a kiss or other normal everyday activities, such as hugging or shaking hands.