Animation of Hepatitis C (2:11)
What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C (HCV) is a disease caused by the hepatitis C virus. When you are infected by the virus, it causes inflammation in your liver. When you first catch HCV, you get a short-term infection called acute HCV. 15-25 percent of people are then able to rid themselves of the infection without treatment. However, for the other 75-85 percent of people, HCV stays in the body and becomes a chronic infection.
What is the difference between hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E?
There are many different kinds of hepatitis and each one causes a different kind of disease. Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E are all viral infections. Hepatitis A (HAV) is a short-term infection that can be spread through contaminated food and/or water. It can be prevented with a vaccination. Hepatitis B (HBV) can be sexually transmitted or transmitted through blood.
Like HCV, HBV is an acute disease that becomes chronic in a certain percentage of patients. It can lead to serious complications like cirrhosis and/or cancer, but it can also be prevented with a series of vaccinations.
Hepatitis D (HDV) is a smaller virus that can only infect people who also have HBV. It is more difficult to treat people who are infected with both HBV and HDV. Hepatitis E (HEV) is similar to HAV and can be transmitted through contaminated water. It is also a short-term infection but in a small percentage of people, it can be fatal.
How is hepatitis C spread?
HCV is spread through blood. This means you are at risk of catching HCV if you inject drugs, share needles, or get a needlestick injury. Prior to 1992, it was also possible to catch HCV through a blood transfusion, but blood is now screened for the virus to reduce this possibility. There is also a chance that pregnant mothers pass HCV onto their children if they are infected. Lastly, it is possible to spread HCV through sexual contact, but the chances are low.
If I have hepatitis C, can I donate blood?
No, you cannot donate blood if you have HCV.
Can I protect myself against hepatitis C?
You can minimize your risk of catching HCV by avoiding activities that may cause the virus to be transmitted. This means you should avoid sharing needles, you should always practice safe sex, and if you are getting a tattoo, you should ask about the cleaning practices the tattoo facility uses.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis C?
Many people do not have any symptoms when they catch HCV. This means you may have HCV and not even know it. When people do have symptoms, they may include fever, fatigue, a change in urine or stool color, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and yellowing of the skin and/or eyes.
How is hepatitis C diagnosed?
HCV is diagnosed with a blood test. The CDC has put out guidelines regarding who should be tested for HCV. If you are interested in getting tested, ask your healthcare provider.
How is hepatitis C treated?
There are several medications that can treat HCV and cure rates have been improving in recent years. Sometimes, treatment is as simple as taking 8-12 weeks of pills. Because of advances in research and treatment, nowadays most people are able to be cured of HCV.
What are the complications of living with hepatitis C?
Chronic HCV can be very serious and may eventually lead to cirrhosis, liver failure, liver cancer, and death.