Hepatitis C is a viral infection that inflames the liver. Over time, the infection can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer, and liver failure. The virus is spread by direct contact with infected blood. The virus is not transmitted by casual contact or by sharing food/drink.
According to the CDC: Hepatitis C virus infection is the most common chronic blood-borne infection in the United States; approximately 3.2 million persons are chronically infected.
SYMPTOMS OF HEPATITIS C
More than half of people newly infected with the virus show no symptoms. Symptoms are usually mild. They may include:
- Joint pain and sore muscles
- Dark urine
DIAGNOSING HEPATITIS C
Complete recovery from hepatitis C occurs 15-25% of the time. Unfortunately, 75% - 85% of patients infected with the virus will develop chronic hepatitis C. Many patients are without symptoms, so cases can go on for years before being diagnosed.
A blood test is used to diagnose hepatitis C. A blood test can identify high levels of liver enzymes in blood infected with hepatitis C. A liver biopsy can determine if there is significant liver damage.
Acute hepatitis C infections can be identified 1-3 weeks after contact with infected blood.
TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR HEPATITIS C
Antiviral medication can eliminate the virus in many cases. Liver transplantation may be necessary if the liver damage is too great for the liver to repair itself. However, liver transplantation is not a complete cure and patients may need to continue antiviral medication after a transplant.
PREVENTING HEPATITIS C
Vaccinations for hepatitis A and B can prevent a patient with hepatitis C from contracting the other viruses. Hepatitis A and B are more severe in patients with hepatitis C, so vaccinations against both viruses are recommended.
People at risk for hepatitis C should be screened for the virus with a blood test.
Patients with the following are at risk:
- Children whose mothers have hepatitis C;
- Clotting disorders, such as hemophilia;
- Dialysis for kidney failure;
- Blood transfusion before 1992;
- History of intravenous drug use;
- Born in the years 1945-1965;
- Received body piercing or tattoos done with non-sterile instruments.