Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is carried in the blood of infected people.
According to various estimates, anywhere from 3 to 10 million people in the United States are carriers of the virus. One reason for this is because the virus wasn't even diagnosed until the late 1980s. In fact, a majority of carriers are still unaware of their HCV status.
Hepatitis C is serious for some people, but not for others. Most people who get hepatitis C carry the virus for the rest of their lives. The majority will experience some liver damage, but may not feel sick from the disease.
Some people with liver damage, due to hepatitis C, may develop cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver and liver failure, which may take many years to develop.
Hepatitis C is primarily spread through contact with infected blood, such as:
Hepatitis C can also spread through:
HCV cannot spread through:
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
Risk factors that may increase your chance of getting hepatitis C include:
While the hepatitis C virus (HCV) can be detected in blood between one to three weeks after the initial exposure, 80 percent of people with hepatitis C have no symptoms and go undiagnosed. Within approximately 50 days, most will begin to develop liver cell injury, although they will be asymptomatic (symptom-free).
About 15 percent of those exposed to HCV will clear their system of the virus within six months.
The remaining 85 percent will develop some level of chronic hepatitis C. Over time, this can cause serious liver damage, although the rate of progression can vary significantly from individual to individual.
Symptoms may include:
And, cigarette smokers may suddenly dislike the taste of cigarettes.
In addition to some of the above symptoms, chronic hepatitis C infection may also cause:
To diagnose hepatitis C, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam.
Your doctor will also want to discuss your risk factors for hepatitis C.
Tests may include:
Serious complications of hepatitis C infection include:
Within about 20 years of exposure, approximately 20 percent of individuals develop cirrhosis, which leads to end-stage liver disease. Alcohol use can dramatically speed the onset of cirrhosis.
Hepatitis C is treated with the following medicines:
These medicines have limited success rates and can cause difficult side effects.
Even with treatment, hepatitis C may not clear up within six months.
Over a long period of time, chronic hepatitis C can cause serious liver damage. In rare cases, a liver transplant may be necessary.
The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is spread, primarily, through contact with infected blood.
To prevent becoming infected with hepatitis C:
If you have hepatitis C, you can prevent the spread of your infection by:
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