Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is caused by infection with the hepatitis C virus. 

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C infection can cause quick, life-threatening liver inflammation, but this reaction is rare. For many people, hepatitis C infection leads to slow progressive liver damage. The damage can include liver inflammation, liver scarring (fibrosis), severe liver damage (cirrhosis), and even liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma).

Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver disease, the leading reason for liver transplantation, and is now the leading cause of death for HIV-infected individuals in the United States.

Most people with hepatitis C have NO symptoms.Many people have no idea they are infected until a doctor does a blood test or they start seeing signs of severe liver damage. If symptoms do occur, they can vary in type and severity.

Common symptoms of Hepatitis C include:

• Fever
• Fatigue (extreme tiredness) • Muscle and joint pain
• Nausea and vomiting

Less common symptoms of Hepatitis C include:

• Severe nausea and vomiting that could lead to dehydration

• Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes, dark urine)

• Bloated or swollen abdomen or stomach.

Hepatitis C infection is diagnosed by a simple blood test. Unfortunately,since few people have symptoms of hepatitis C, few people are tested.

Tests must be ordered by a healthcare provider, so it is important to discuss potential risk factors for infection with a doctor. Sometimes patients need to request the tests. All blood donations are tested and many life insurance companies test for hepatitis B and C. 

Transmission and Prevention

Hepatitis C is transmitted through contact with infected blood or bodily fluids.

This DOES occur through:

• Direct blood-to-blood contact
• Use of unsterile medical equipment
• Use of unsterile injection drug equipment

Hepatitis C MAY occur through:

• Unprotected sex
• From an infected woman to her newborn during birth
• Unsterile tattoos, piercing and acupuncture
• Sharing razors and toothbrushes

Hepatitis C is NOT transmitted through casual contact like coughing, sneezing, hugging, or eating. 

The CDC and other health organizations recommend hepatitis C testing for the following groups:

  •   Individuals who used injection drugs EVER - even if just once.

  •   Individuals who received a blood transfusion prior to 1992,

  •   Individuals who received blood products (like clotting factors) prior to 1987,

  •   Illicit drug users (injecting, inhaling, snorting, popping pills),

  •   Individuals with evidence of liver disease (symptoms or abnormal lab tests),

  •   Individuals with early kidney disease or undergoing kidney dialysis,

  •   Persons with HIV.

  •   Individuals born between 1945-1965, also known as “Baby Boomers”

While not recommended by all health officials, HepTREC recommends that the following groups be tested for hepatitis C:

  •   Residents and staff of correctional facilities,

  •   Health care workers and emergency personnel,

  •   Individuals who get non-sterile tattoos or body piercing,

  •   Individuals with hepatitis B infection,

  •   Household members & sexual partners of someone with hepatitis C.

Treatment

Hepatitis C treatments have improved tremendously! The latest treatments are easy to take and, for most people, can CURE Hepatitis C in 8 to 12 weeks.

If you are diagnosed with hepatitis C, request a copy and discuss the results with your healthcare provider. Important terms that appear in hepatitis C lab reports include:

  •   Antibody: a protein made by the body in response to a foreign substance, like the hepatitis C virus. A positive hepatitis C antibody test indicates a current or previous hepatitis C infection.

  •   HCV RNA: the genetic material of the hepatitis C virus. Presence of HCV RNA indicates a current hepatitis C infection.

  •   Viral load: the amount of virus in the blood. In hepatitis C, viral load does not correlate to the amount of liver damage. It does impact hepatitis C treatment. This test is sometimes called a "quantitative" test.

  •   Genotype: the type of hepatitis C virus. There are 6 main genotypes of hepatitis C (1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6). All are hepatitis C viruses, they just have small differences. Genotype is important in making treatment decisions. 

It is important to recognize that not everyone with hepatitis C needs to be on medication. Treatment has costs and benefits, or pros and cons. It is important to discuss the pros and cons with a doctor knowledgeable about hepatitis C treatment. Treatment decisions should be made on an individual basis. Each person has a unique medical history and personal preferences.​

The medical community in the United States turns to the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) for guidance on treatment options. Click here for the AASLD's most recent treatment guidelines.

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