About Hepatitis C (Hep C, HCV)
Hepatitis C is a virus that causes inflammation of the liver. The likelihood of an infected person developing a chronic (long-term) hepatitis C infection is high, at approximately 75-85%. Hepatitis C is a common condition in the U.S. Most individuals with hepatitis C are not aware that they are infected. The Centers for Disease Control has suggested for anyone born between 1945-1965 to be tested for the virus.
Each of the four different genotypes of the hepatitis C virus originate in various regions of the world. Each genotype responds differently to treatment.
Why it is problematic
Chronic inflammation of the liver can lead to other more serious liver conditions. This perpetual swelling and liver infection can also lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver failure, liver cancer, or the formation of gastric or esophageal varicies (as a complication of cirrhosis), that may be life threatening.
Causes and Risk Factors
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne (carried by the blood) or perinatal (mother to child) virus. It is very likely to be transmitted by IV drug use, exposure to infected blood, unsterilized tattoo or body piercing instruments, risky sexual behavior, or blood-contaminated personal items such as razors, tweezers and toothbrushes.
During the earliest stages of infection there are usually no symptoms. Many people are unaware of infection because they can neither see nor feel the virus.
As the disease progresses vague symptoms may manifest such as:
- Abdominal tenderness (usually in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen)
- Muscle pain
- Dark Urine
- Pruritus (itching)
Hepatitis C is often treated with dual therapy of the drugs ribavirin and pegylated interferon alfa 2a or 2b. These treatments are available by prescription only. Throughout treatment, the patient will be monitored for side effects from the interferon. Alfa interferon treatment may be repeated if symptoms return. A new more effective treatment with the brand name Sovaldi® has been approved for use in conjunction with ribavirin and pegylated interferon alfa. For a more in-depth description of treatments, please see our Liver Treatments page.
Currently there is no vaccine available for hepatitis C. To help protect yourself from infection, avoid conditions that may lead to exposure to the virus. Hepatitis C is transferred by contact with infected blood. Avoid sharing needles, including those used for tattoos or piercing. Avoid sharing personal items that may have come in to contact with blood. Although it is uncommon to contract hepatitis C from sexual contact, it is possible and having protected sex is always advised.
Over 3 million people have chronic hepatitis C in the U.S.
It is estimated that there are 130-200 million people infected with hepatitis C worldwide.