Hepatitis C

WHAT IS HEPATITIS C?
Hepatitis C is an inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus. Approximately four million Americans are infected, with about 36,000 new infections each year. The hepatitis C virus can infect a person who has been exposed to an infected person's blood. The virus can stay in the body, usually for a lifetime, and eventually can cause chronic, serious liver diseases.

WHAT BEHAVIORS COULD PUT ME AT RISK?
You are at risk if you share needles, razors, toothbrushes or other items that could be contaminated with blood. You are at risk if you received a blood transfusion prior to 1992 or clotting factors before 1987. You are at risk if you work with contaminated blood or are exposed to blood. Chronic dialysis is also a risk factor. Although the likelihood of infection from sexual contact is low, it is possible. Thus, if you have sex with an infected partner or if you have had multiple partners, you do have a risk factor for hepatitis C. Even though these risk factors are known, it is still unclear why a significant minority who do not have any of these risk factors have hepatitis C.

SHOULD I BE TESTED?
You should be tested for hepatitis C if you:

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO PREVENT HEPATITIS C?
Practicing good hygiene and safer sexual behaviors is a good first step. You can help avoid infection by using these precautions:

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF HEPATITIS C?
Hepatitis C is less likely than the other hepatitis viruses to cause serious illness at first (only one quarter of the people infected actually develop symptoms); but about 85% of those infected develop chronic liver disease.

At least 20% of those with chronic infection develop cirrhosis of the liver and one to five percent will get hepato-cellular carcinoma.

Early symptoms of viral hepatitis include:

Later symptoms can include:

HOW IS IT DIAGNOSED?
Although health providers use information about a person's symptoms, health history and behaviors to help make a diagnosis, only blood tests can confirm the diagnosis and pinpoint which type of hepatitis a person has.

HOW IS HEPATITIS C TREATED?
There are medications that are used to treat some people with hepatitis C. These drugs can decrease the amount of virus present while they are being taken, and occasionally these drugs can cure. They are wonder drugs for the fortunate people that they work in, but they don't work in everyone. If you have hepatitis C, you need to stay current on treatment options, as there is much research afoot and excellent reason to remain optimistic about future, better treatments.