What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis means the inflammation of the liver and viral hepatitis are diseases that affect the liver.  The most common types of hepatitis are A, B, and C.  Each type of hepatitis has different causes and symptoms.  Let’s look at hepatitis C in detail.

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Hepatitis C (HCV) is the most common cause of chronic liver disease n the US.  Studies show that the number of people who have been infected with hepatitis C is increasing worldwide.  According to the World Heath Organization, more than  350,000 people are dying from liver disease that are related to hepatitis C.  According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) 1.8 percent of Americans have infected with hepatitis C.  If the infected individual does not seek treatment, hepatitis C can lead to liver damage, liver cancer, and eventually liver failure.

How is Hepatitis C Transmitted

Hepatitis C is primarily transferred through blood.  It can also be transmitted:
  • By Intravenous drug user (sharing needles)
  • If an individual gets a tattoo or receives acupuncture from needs that have not been properly sterilized
  • By having unprotected sex with an infected partner through exposure to his or her blood.  Blood could be present from genital sores, menstruation, or any open wounds
  • Through blood transfusion from blood that has not been screened.  Blood transfusions in the US and UK are screened
  • Through birth from a HCV infected mother, which is rare.  If the mother had HIV, this can increase the risk
  • By sharing household personal items with an infected person including razors, toothbrush, scissors, and nail clippers
Hepatitis C cannot be passed on through casual contact such as hugging, kissing,sharing food or water, or sneezing.

Symptoms of Hepatitis C

Many people do not experience symptoms when they become infected with hepatitis C.  Symptoms can take from two weeks to several months to develop.  It is important to know that an infected person without any symptoms can still spread the virus.
Symptoms may include:
  • Mild, flu-like symptoms
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Jaundice (yellow skin)
  • Itchy Skin
There are two types of hepatitis C.  There is acute hepatitis C and chronic hepatitis C.  About 20 percent of individuals who get hepatitis C will clear it from their system within six months, but this does not mean that he or she cannot get hepatitis C again in the future.  Eighty percent of people will have chronic (long term) hepatitis C.  This means the person will carry the virus throughout the rest of his or her life and can spread it to other people.  People with chronic hepatitis C may develop liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Tests

If you suspect that you have been exposed to hepatitis C, please contact your health care physician.  Your doctor will be able to run blood tests to see if their are HCV antibodies in your blood.

Treatment

People who have acute hepatitis C may not need any treatment.  Your doctor may prescribe you medication, but bed rest, drinking pleny of fluids, avoiding alcohol, and eating healthy foods will probably be recommended by your doctor.  In addition to blood work, your doctor may run tests to determine your liver function, and may do a liver biopsy see if you are suffering from chronic hepatitis C.  An individual who has been diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C may be prescribed antiviral drugs.    Your medical doctor will prescribe the best course of action for you.  Once you have been diagnosed with hepatitis C, your doctor will want you to have regulat checkups, follow blood work and physical exams.
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