WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT HEP C
If you have hep C, you are not alone – about 3.4 million people are living with hep C in the United States. Hep C is a disease caused by a virus that infects the liver. It can be spread through blood-to-blood contact or when the blood from a person with hep C comes into contact with another person’s blood.
Hepatitis C includes several distinct genotypes, or genetic strains of the virus. Your doctor will take your viral genotype into consideration when deciding what treatment to offer you, the dosage of your medications, and how long the treatment will last.
There are at least six known genotypes and more than 50 subtypes of hepatitis C. In the United States, genotype 1 is most common.
“Cured” means that the hep C virus is no longer detectable in your blood 3 months after you finish your hep C treatment. 12 weeks after you complete your treatment, your doctor will do a blood test to determine if the hep C virus can still be detected.
If you have chronic hep C, you may have to make a few lifestyle changes to stay as healthy as possible. It’s important to discuss the following with your doctor:
- Reducing or stopping alcohol intake
- Eating a healthy diet
- Giving up cigarette smoking
Hepatitis C is caused by a virus that spreads when blood from a person infected with the hepatitis C virus comes into contact with the blood of someone who is not infected. It does not spread through food or water, or by sitting on toilet seats.
Hep C cannot be transmitted by sharing knives, forks, or spoons; breastfeeding; hugging, kissing, or holding hands; or coughing or sneezing.
People who are at risk of getting hepatitis C include:
- Current or past use of shared needles
- Anyone who received a blood transfusion, blood product, or donor organ prior to the availability of screening in the United States in 1992
- People who are on some forms of kidney dialysis
- Anyone who received tattoos or body piercings with non-sterile instruments
- People infected with HIV
- Anyone who was ever in jail or prison
- Babies born to mothers infected with hepatitis C
- Anyone who received a blood product for clotting problems made before 1987
- Healthcare worker who has been accidentally stuck with a contaminated needle
Less common risks include:
- Have had a sexual relationship with a partner who has hepatitis C
- Share personal items, including razors or toothbrushes, with someone who has hepatitis C
- Use intranasal drugs
Hepatitis C can be a silent disease, meaning that people can have it but not have noticeable symptoms – approximately 70%–80% of people with acute hepatitis C do not have any symptoms. Some people, however, can have mild to severe symptoms soon after being infected.
As many people have no symptoms, they may not know that they have hepatitis C, and therefore don’t seek treatment. During this time, the infected person can spread the virus to others.
Symptoms of hepatitis C may include:
- Fatigue (feeling tired even if you’ve had a normal amount of rest and activity)
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea (upset stomach)
- Abdominal pain (pain in the gut)
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored stools
- Joint pain
- Jaundice (yellow color in the eyes or skin)
Infection with hep C can be acute (lasting a short amount of time, less than 6 months from time of exposure) or chronic (long-term, or lasting more than 6 months).
Approximately 75%–85% of people who become infected with hepatitis C virus develop chronic infection, which can last a lifetime.
When the hep C infection advances and cirrhosis (liver scarring) progresses, the liver begins to fail and can no longer remove toxic substances from the blood. The stomach can fill with fluid, and the kidneys and spleen may become involved, which can result in anemia or bleeding issues.
Chronic hepatitis C can lead to scarring of the liver (sometimes called ‘cirrhosis’). In patients with cirrhosis, scar tissue replaces healthy tissue.
Cirrhosis can progress so slowly that people feel no symptoms for years, until damage to the liver has begun to take place. Approximately 5% to 20% of people will develop cirrhosis as a result of their hepatitis C infection over a period of 20-30 years.
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