When the Hepatitis A and B viruses were identified in the 1970s it became clear that there was a third virus causing post-transfusion hepatitis. This became known as non A - non B hepatitis until the virus was fully identified in the late 1980s and given the name Hepatitis C. Originally it was thought that the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) attacked only the liver. Hepatitis means inflamation of the liver, so perhaps the virus would have been given a different name had it been known how much it can damage the entire body.
Ongoing research has revealed that it affects the digestive system, the lymphatic system, the immune system and the brain. It is linked to numerous health problems including diabetes, rheumatic and joint problems, heart disease, lung disease, depression, concentration and memory problems, vitamin deficiencies, gallstone disease, irritable bowel syndrome - the list goes on and on. Illnesses other than liver damage that are caused by HCV are called 'extra-hepatic manifestations'.
The course of chronic infection is varied and unpredictable. Some might suffer severe liver damage early on. Others might suffer serious illness in the form of extra-hepatic manifestations. Because they are unaware that HCV is more than liver disease many people will not realise it is the cause of their illness.