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Hepatitis C is a severe liver infection. Also known as HCV or hep C, it starts as a short-term infection with the hepatitis C virus.
More than half of people infected with hep C develop a lifelong infection. This is most likely to happen for people who do not receive treatment before the disease progresses.
Left untreated, the hep C virus can cause:
Many people with HCV don't know they have it. That's why all adults should get a hepatitis C test at least once in their life.
Around 2.4 million people in the U.S. were living with hepatitis C in 2016.
The CDC estimates that about 50,000 people had acute hepatitis C in 2018. There were also nearly 16,000 hepatitis C-related deaths that year.
Hep C spreads between people when blood from an infected person enters the body of someone who is not infected.
Common ways the virus spreads include:
You can't get HCV
Some people face an increased risk of getting HCV, such as those:
You also might be at risk for hep C if you:
Left undiagnosed or untreated, hepatitis can cause serious, even fatal, complications such as:
There are some steps you can take to reduce your risk of contracting hepatitis C:
Our experts have tested many new antiviral medicines for hepatitis C. These new drugs have been game-changers for many people with the disease. We may even see the end of hepatitis C in the next few decades.
We take a team approach to provide the best results for people with chronic hepatitis C.
At the UPMC Center for Liver Diseases, your care team will include:
Part of what makes hep C so dangerous is that many people don't have symptoms. Or you might have symptoms that go away for a short time.
But liver damage can get worse even without symptoms. Damage can be severe by the time you receive your diagnosis.
If you have any of these symptoms, let your doctor know:
Your doctor might order a blood test for you if you have some or all of these symptoms.
Your doctor diagnoses HCV using blood test results.
Certain blood tests can reveal whether you have active hep C or had the infection in the past. Your doctor will order these blood tests if you show symptoms.
But sometimes, people get tested for hepatitis even if they don't have symptoms. The CDC urges all adults to get hep C testing at least once.
People should also have a test for hep C if they:
IV drug users and people on dialysis should receive regular hep C testing.
After your doctor confirms your diagnosis, you'll need more tests to find out if you have liver damage.
These tests might include:
Thanks to recent antiviral drugs, doctors can cure most people of hep C if they diagnose it early.
Your doctor will tailor your treatment to your health and needs.
The CDC recommends that doctors use antiviral drugs to treat everyone who has hepatitis C, regardless of how advanced the disease is. While treating a long-term infection won't reverse liver damage, it can prevent further damage.
The newest drugs, known as direct-acting antivirals, have greatly improved treatment options. UPMC doctors — many of whom tested these drugs in clinical trials — are experts at combining them with older medicines.
Today, people often have fewer side effects and better results. Your doctor will create a treatment plan for you based on your health and whether you have liver damage.
If medicine doesn't help treat your advanced hepatitis C, you may need a liver transplant.
If you need a transplant, we'll work closely with doctors at the UPMC Liver Transplant Program to provide seamless care. This means you can focus on healing.