Hepatitis C


Hepatitis C

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Key Factors

  • A type of viral infection that causes liver inflammation, hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver cancer.
  • It also results in many liver transplants.
  • While some patients experience unpleasant symptoms, about half of all hepatitis C patients do not know they are infected. 

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis liver, sick liverHepatitis C is a viral infection that causes liver inflammation, sometimes leading to serious liver damage. The hepatitis C virus (HCV) spreads through contaminated blood. 

Learn More About: Hepatitis | Hepatitis A | Hepatitis B  

Cause 

Hepatitis C, caused by the hepatitis C virus, spreads when contaminated blood enters the bloodstream of an uninfected person. Hepatitis C occurs in various forms, also called genotypes.

Globally, there are seven unique genotypes, with type 1 being the most prevalent here in the U.S.

Risk Factors 

People who meet any of the following criteria may face an increased risk of getting hepatitis C:

  • Health care workers with exposure to infected blood
  • Illicit drug users (inhaled or injected)
  • HIV patients
  • Those who have gotten a piercing or tattoo using unsterile equipment
  • Anyone who has received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992
  • Patients who have received clotting factor concentrates before 1987
  • Those who have received hemodialysis treatments for extended periods
  • Babies born to an infected mother
  • People who were ever in prison
  • People born between 1945 and 1965 (the generation with the highest incidence rate)

Symptoms

These symptoms may indicate a hepatitis C infection. If you are experiencing the following, consult your Charleston GI specialist:

  • Bleeding or bruising easily
  • Fatigue
  • Poor appetite
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Swelling of the legs
  • Weight loss
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Itchy skin
  • Abdominal fluid buildup 
  • Confusion, drowsiness and slurred speech
  • Spider-like blood vessels on the skin

Diagnostic Test 

A physical examination may be performed by your gastroenterologist to check for these symptoms:

  • Enlarged and tender liver
  • Fluid in the abdomen (ascites) that can become infected
  • Yellowing of the skin

Your doctor may order laboratory tests to both diagnose infection and monitor your current condition. These tests may be ordered:

  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Liver function tests
  • Liver biopsy to check for liver damage
  • Autoimmune blood markers
  • Hepatitis virus serologies
  • Paracentesis if fluid is in your abdomen

Treatment

If you have been diagnosed with hepatitis C, your GI specialist will discuss your treatment options moving forward. Available options depend on how you contracted the virus and its impact on your liver function.

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Hepatitis C Frequently Asked Questions

How serious is chronic hepatitis C?
Chronic hepatitis C can leave sufferers with long-lasting health concerns, like liver damage, liver failure, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. In the worst cases, chronic hepatitis C is deadly. According to the CDC, there were 15,713 deaths related to hepatitis C in 2018 – although it is likely that the actual total is much higher. Note that hepatitis C is also the most common reason for liver transplants in the U.S.

Does hepatitis go away? 
Yes, hepatitis typically goes away on its own without treatment. Chronic hepatitis, however, may linger long-term and cause liver damage.

How likely is it that someone with acute hepatitis C will become chronically infected? 
Studies show that more than half of infected people will develop a chronic infection.

Is there a vaccine for hepatitis?
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. There are, however, effective vaccines for hepatitis A and B. 

Is it contagious?
Yes, hepatitis A, B, and C are caused by viruses and are highly contagious. 

Can you get hepatitis C by getting a tattoo or piercing?
There is no evidence to support that the hepatitis C virus is spread within licensed, commercial tattooing facilities. But if a facility does not take the proper precautions or use sterile equipment, it is possible to contract hepatitis C.

Can it be sexually transmitted?
Although not the top method of transmission, sexual activity with an infected person may result in hepatitis C. 

Can you get hepatitis C more than once? 
Yes. You can be infected again even if you have cleared the virus and made a full recovery. That is why it is so important for people with an elevated risk of infection to undergo regular testing.

Can I get hepatitis C from a mosquito or other insect bite?
No. Research has not found that hepatitis C can be transmitted by mosquitoes or other insects.

Can a person spread hepatitis C without having symptoms?
Yes. If you have hepatitis C, you can give it to someone else even if you are asymptomatic.

Which form of hepatitis is the most dangerous? 
Hepatitis B and C are considered to be more dangerous than other types (A, D, and E) because they can develop into chronic conditions.

How common is acute hepatitis C in the United States?
According to the CDC, there were 3,621 cases of acute hepatitis C reported in 2018. Since many people do not show symptoms and are not diagnosed, there are many cases of hepatitis C that are not officially reported. CDC believes the actual number of acute hepatitis C cases in 2018 was probably closer to 50,300.

How common is chronic hepatitis C in the United States?
Estimates show that there are about 2.4 million Americans living with hepatitis C, according to 2016 data.


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