What is hepatitis C?
The term “hepatitis” refers to any inflammation of the liver. Inflammation of the liver can be caused by toxins, medications, as well as various diseases and infections. Hepatitis C (Hep C) is a type of viral infection attacking the liver caused by the Hep C virus (HCV).
The HCV virus infects the liver and leads to its inflammation. Hep C can manifest in a variety of ways, ranging from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. Thus, Hep C is divided into two broad categories: “acute,” meaning a new infection and “chronic,” meaning a potentially lifelong infection.
- Acute Hep C occurs within the first six months of HCV infection. Around 50% of acute cases progress to a long-term “chronic” stage.
- Chronic Hep C refers to the long-term persistence of Hep C disease and can be a lifelong infection if left untreated. Without proper treatment chronic Hep C can cause serious health problems, including:
What are the symptoms of hep C?
Initial symptoms of hep C are often outside the liver, including:
Symptoms typical of liver involvement are:
How dangerous is Hep C?
Hep C, specifically chronic Hep C, can be a serious disease. It can lead to long-term health issues, including liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer, or even death. Hep C is a major cause of cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer.
This makes it the most common reason for liver transplant in the United States. In 2016, CDC reported over 1,800 deaths related to the HCV. Nevertheless, the actual deaths due to Hep C are believed to be far more in number because not all people are tested for the virus.
How do you get Hep C?
You can acquire Hep C if you receive blood from a person infected with HCV. Before 1992, when blood screening for HCV infection was not available, Hep C spread through blood transfusion and organ donation. This is not the case now due to widespread screening of blood donors in the United States. However, one can still get Hep C in the following situations:
- Sharing needles and syringes
- Needlestick injury in healthcare or other settings
- Baby born to a mother with Hep C
- Contaminated instruments like colonoscope, via dialysis or during surgery
- Sexual contact with an infected person
- Sharing razors with an infected person
- Getting a tattoo or body piercing in an unregulated setting
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Is there a treatment for Hep C?
Acute Hep C: There is no recommended treatment for acute Hep C. Infected people should be followed by a doctor and only considered for treatment if the infection persists.
Chronic Hep C: There are now many treatment options available for Hep C. The following drug combinations are currently used:
Can I get vaccinated against Hep C?
Unfortunately, no vaccine is available to protect from Hep C infection. So, avoiding the risks is the only protection against Hep C.
Medically Reviewed on 5/22/2020
Hepatitis C Questions and Answers for Health Professionals