About Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is a liver disease characterized by inflammation that, if left untreated, can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure over time. The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is just one of a number of hepatitis viruses. (The most common of which include hepatitis A and B.)
There are two types of hepatitis C infections:
- Acute. This is a short-term viral infection that may or may not resolve.
- Chronic. This is a long-term illness where the viral infection did not resolve. It can last a lifetime and lead to serious liver diseases.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is estimated that 2.7 to 3.9 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C. In addition, the generation known as baby boomers (people born from 1945 to 1965) are five times more likely than others to have hepatitis C. However, researchers have made it clear that the reason is connected to reusing medical syringes, not high-risk sex or injection drug use.
Contracting Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is contracted in the following ways:
- Sharing needles or other equipment used for the purpose of injecting illegal drugs. Of all the cases in the United States, this is the most common method of infection
- Receiving blood transfusions or organ transplants prior to 1992. As of 1992, all blood and organs donated are tested for hepatitis C
- Reusing needles with infected blood for injections. This occurs in countries in which needles are reused when giving shots
- Getting tattoos with an infected needle (one not properly cleaned after use)
In rare cases, a mother can transmit hepatitis C to her baby at birth. It’s also possible for health workers to be infected by accidental exposure to blood containing hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C Symptoms
Most people who contract hepatitis C have no symptoms. However, those who do develop symptoms may experience nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, and yellowing of the eyes and skin.
Hepatitis C Testing
Testing for HCV occurs through a blood test. A blood test can reveal the virus’ genetic material, as well as antibodies that the body produces against HCV. These antibodies are detectable for decades after infection, thus helping to determine the presence of both acute and chronic hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C Treatment
At whatever stage hepatitis C is contracted, it is important to get treatment. HCV is treated with various antiviral medications. The type of medication prescribed depends on the type of HCV and the amount of liver damage (if any). It also depends on other prior treatments and/or medical conditions.
Significant advances in treatment have recently been made by researchers that have led to fewer side effects, shorter treatment regimens and better outcomes. In fact, the hepatitis C virus is now considered “cured” if the virus is no longer detected in the blood three months after treatment.