What You Need to Know About Hepatitis C

What You Need to Know About Hepatitis C

Learn about the causes, symptoms and complications of this infection.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2.7 and 3.9 million people in the US have hepatitis C, and between 1 and 5 percent of those die each year from liver diseases that result from the condition. While there currently is no vaccine for the disease, antiviral medications are available to cure the disease, and preventative measures can also be taken to reduce the spreading of hepatitis C. 

What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a disease characterized by inflammation of the liver. It can be “acute,” or short term, or “chronic,” meaning life-long. An acute infection can go away on its own, but up to 85 percent become chronic after six months of acute infection. The condition can lead to serious problems such as liver scarring or liver cancer.

Causes and symptoms
Hepatitis C occurs in patients due to blood-to-blood contact from an infected individual. The most common methods of blood transmission, according to the CDC include sharing contaminated needles, and, less commonly, unclean tattoo or piercing instruments, sharing razors and toothbrushes or during sex. The infection can also pass from mother to baby during childbirth.

Symptoms of acute hepatitis C occur on average six to seven weeks after exposure, but can range from two weeks to six months. Common symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Dark Urine
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice (yellow color in the skin)

A long-term hepatitis C infection will usually not have symptoms for many years but, if left untreated, may lead to liver disease such as cirrhosis, a scarring of the liver. It is also important to note that approximately 70 to 80 percent of people with hepatitis C do not exhibit any symptoms.  People who do not show symptoms can still spread the disease.

Medication options
Hepatitis C in its acute or chronic stages can be treated. Approximately 15 to 25 percent of people who are infected with acute hepatitis C will not develop chronic hepatitis, according to the CDC. Experts aren’t sure why.

Similar antiviral therapies are used treat both acute and chronic infections. Newer drugs and medicines tend to have minimal side effects. Common side effects of hepatitis C drugs include headache, fatigue, nausea and sleep problems. Talk to your healthcare provider about potential side effects when taking new medication.

Lifestyle Changes
People with hepatitis C should visit their healthcare provider regularly to monitor their liver function and disease progression. Hepatitis C isn’t spread through casual, day-to-day contact, so those infected can still go to work, school, child care or be present in public settings.

If you have hepatitis C, avoid alcohol because it may trigger additional liver damage. When deciding on treatment, review the side effects of the drugs with your healthcare provider and avoid other medicines that affect the liver.

Lastly, people with hepatitis C should prevent others from coming in contact with their blood. They should disinfect and cover all open wounds, refrain from sharing razors and toothbrushes and should not donate blood, organs or semen. Sexual partners should be made aware of the condition and condoms should be used. By taking these precautions, the spread of hepatitis C can be reduced.

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