A contagious liver disease that can present as a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness that attacks the liver.
Hepatitis is commonly referred to a family of viral infections that affect the liver. There are many different types of hepatitis and the most common forms of hepatitis are Hepatitis A (HAV), Hepatitis B (HVB), and Hepatitis C (HCV). The biggest difference among the various forms of hepatitis is that HAV and HVB are vaccine preventable and HCV is not.
What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that can present as a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness that attacks the liver. This occurs as a result of an infection by the Hepatitis C virus and this disease can be considered either acute or chronic.
Acute hepatitis C is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the Hepatitis C virus. In 2014, there were an estimated 30,500 cases of acute hepatitis C virus infections reported in the United States. Unfortunately 75-85%, who have acute hepatitis C will eventually develop into a chronic infection.
Chronic Hepatitis C is a long-term illness that occurs when the virus remains in the body. Chronic Hepatitis C can lead to serious liver problems such as cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or liver cancer. Approximately, 2.7-3.9 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C.
How is Hepatitis C spread?
Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from an infected person with Hepatitis C enters the body of an uninfected person.
Infection of Hepatitis C can result from these activities:
- Sharing needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject drugs
- Sexual contact with a person infected with Hepatitis C
- Needle stick injuries in healthcare settings
- Being born to a mother infected with HCV
- Sharing personal care items such as razors
What are the symptoms of acute Hepatitis C?
Approximately, 70%-80% of people affected by acute hepatitis C do not present with symptoms; however, some do experience symptoms around 6-7 weeks following exposure. Such symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Joint pain
- Jaundice (yellow color of skin and eyes)
What are the long-term effects of chronic Hepatitis C?
Chronic infection of hepatitis C can result in liver failure, liver damage, liver cancer, or even death. The most common reason for liver transplantation in the United States is Hepatitis C.
- 60-70% of patients will develop chronic liver disease
- 5-20% of patients will develop cirrhosis over a period of 20-30 years
- 1-5% of patients will die from cirrhosis or liver cancer
How do you know if you have Hepatitis C?
There are several blood tests that are used to identify if a patient has Hepatitis C. A patient will first get a screening test that will show whether a patient has developed antibodies to the Hepatitis C virus. If a patient presents positive during screening, additional tests can be ordered by your physician to confirm the results.
Can acute Hepatitis C be treated?
Yes, acute Hepatitis can be treated. An acute infection can be cleared in about 25% of patients without treatment. Acute hepatitis C is treated with the same medication used to treat chronic hepatitis C. Immediate treatment of an acute infection will reduce the risk that the disease will develop into a chronic infection.
Can chronic Hepatitis C be treated?
Yes, there are several medications that are approved for the treatment of chronic Hepatitis C. More recently, novel agents have been approved for treatment Hepatitis and have shown high rates of efficacy with few side effects.
What can a person with chronic Hepatitis C do to take care of his or her liver?
People with chronic hepatitis C should meet with an experienced physician regularly. Patients should avoid alcohol as it can contribute to additional liver damage. Patients should also check with their physician or pharmacist before taking any prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications and natural supplements due to possible drug interactions.
Medications associated with the treatment of Hepatitis C (click the medication name to be taken to the manufacturers web page):
Additional resources for Hepatitis C patients: