Phase 1: Acute Infection (The first six months)
When hepatitis C enters the bloodstream it is carried to the liver. The virus infects the liver cells and begins to grow. About 20% of people can clear the virus on their own within a few months.
Phase 2: Chronic Infection
About 80% of people will not clear the virus on their own and will develop a long-term infection.
Phase 3: Inflammation and Fibrosis
The virus multiplies by killing liver cells and this damage leads to inflammation in the liver. Over time, this damage leads to scar tissue in the liver called fibrosis. The virus acts very slowly, often over 20-30 years, and a person may not show any symptoms.
Phase 4: Cirrhosis
Over 20-30 years of chronic infection, one out of five people can develop heavier scarring and hardening of the liver, called cirrhosis. Some people’s livers will still function normally and show no symptoms. For other people the cirrhosis may start affecting normal liver functions. Widespread scarring at this point causes the liver to shrink and there is risk of liver failure. At this point a liver transplant might be considered. Five to 10 per cent of people with cirrhosis develop liver cancer.