Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is an important human pathogen with a high chronicity rate. An estimated 71 million people worldwide are living with chronic hepatitis C (CHC) infection, which carries the risk of progression to hepatic fibrosis, cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Similar to other RNA viruses, HCV has a high rate of genetic variability generated by its high mutation rate and the actions of evolutionary forces over time. There are two levels of HCV genetic variability: intra-host variability, characterized by the distribution of HCV mutant genomes present in an infected individual, and inter-host variability, represented by the globally circulating viruses that give rise to different HCV genotypes and subtypes. HCV genetic diversity has important implications for virus persistence, pathogenesis, immune responses, transmission, and the development of successful vaccines and antiviral strategies. Here we will discuss how HCV genetic heterogeneity impacts viral spread and therapeutic control.
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