What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the Hepatitis C virus. Hepatitis C has been called the silent disease because people can get infected and not know it. Some people who get infected with Hepatitis C are able to clear, or get rid of the virus, but most people who get infected develop a chronic, or lifelong infection.
What are the
symptoms of Hepatitis C?
Many people with Hepatitis C do not have symptoms and do not know they are infected. Even though a person has no symptoms, the virus can still be detected in the blood.
If symptoms occur with acute infection, they can appear anytime from 2 weeks to 6 months after exposure. Symptoms of chronic Hepatitis C can take up to 30 years to develop. Damage to the liver can silently occur during this time. When symptoms do appear, they often are a sign of advanced liver disease. Symptoms of both acute and chronic Hepatitis C can include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, grey-colored stools, joint pain and jaundice.
What is the difference between acute and chronic Hepatitis C?
Acute Hepatitis C is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the Hepatitis C virus. For reasons that are not known, 15-25 percent of people "clear" the virus without treatment. Approximately 75-85 percent of people who become infected with the Hepatitis C virus develop "chronic" or lifelong infection.
Chronic Hepatitis C is a life-long illness that occurs when the Hepatitis C virus remains in a person's body. Over time, it can lead to serious liver problems, including liver damage, cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer.
How is Hepatitis C spread?
Hepatitis C is spread when blood from a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. This can happen through different ways including:
Intravenous drug use - Most people become infected with Hepatitis C by sharing needles or other equipment used to inject drugs.
Blood transfusions and/or organ transplants - Before widespread screening of the blood supply began in 1992, Hepatitis C was spread through blood transfusions and/or organ transplants.
Outbreaks - While uncommon, poor infection control has resulted in outbreaks in healthcare facilities and residential care facilities.
Sex - While rare, Hepatitis C can be spread through sexual intercourse. Having an STD or HIV or sex with multiple partners appears to increase a person's risk of contracting Hepatitis C.
Tattoos - Hepatitis C can be spread when getting tattoos and body piercings in informal settings or with non-sterile instruments. Professional tattoo shops are now required to be licensed in transmission precautions and are required to use sterile supplies and appropriate personal protective equipment between each customer.
How is Hepatitis
Current treatment typically involves taking combinations of different antiviral medications for 6 to 12 months. These medications help your body to fight the Hepatitis C virus. New medications are available that may increase the number of people who get rid of the virus and may reduce the length of treatment.
Can Hepatitis C be cured?
For many people with Hepatitis C, medical treatment can be successful and can result in the virus no longer being detected in the blood.
Where should you go
to get tested?
You can go to your family doctor to get tested for Hepatitis C if you feel you have ever had any risk factors for contracting the virus such as: intravenous drug use, blood transfusions before 1992, tattoos or piercings done by a non-professional or have ever had unprotected sex with a partner who has a high risk factor for having Hepatitis C.
Test results are confidential and it only takes a simple blood test to find out if you have Hepatitis C. It's better to find out now before any further liver damage is done and seek the necessary treatment. Also, if you are made aware that you have Hepatitis C, the likelihood of passing it on to someone else if decreased because you will then have the knowledge of how the virus is passed on and will avoid any further high risk behavior.
For more information: Talk to your health care provider, call your local health department or visit www.cdc.gov/hepatitis.
Editor's note:?Andrea Uren is a BCMH Infection Control Nurse.