What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C (HCV) is a viral infection that causes liver inflammation, sometimes leading to serious liver damage. Having HCV for a long time can lead to serious problems such as cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver failure, and liver cancer. Development of serious complications can, in some cases, lead to the need for a liver transplant.
Because symptoms can take decades to appear, about half of people infected with HCV don't know they have the virus. Long-term infection with HCV is known as chronic hepatitis C. Chronic hepatitis C is usually a "silent" infection for many years until the virus damages the liver and begins causing signs and symptoms of liver disease. Signs and symptoms may include the following:
- Bleeding easily
- Bruising easily
- Poor appetite
- Yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Dark-colored urine
- Itchy skin
- Fluid buildup in your abdomen (ascites)
- Swelling in your legs
- Weight loss
- Confusion, drowsiness and slurred speech (hepatic encephalopathy)
- Spider-like blood vessels on your skin (spider angiomas)
How is hepatitis C spread?
HCV is transmitted or spread when the blood from an infected person enters the bloodstream of someone who is not infected. People can become infected with the HCV during such activities as:
- Sharing needles, syringes, or other equipment to prepare or inject illicit drugs
- Being born to a mother who has HCV
- Sharing personal care items that may have come in contact with another person’s blood, such as razors or toothbrushes
- Getting a tattoo or body piercing with unsterilized needles previously used on an infected person
- Getting a needlestick injury in a healthcare setting
How is hepatitis C treated?
Until recently, HCV therapy required weekly injections that were often not tolerable for HCV-infected patients or not a treatment option due to other health conditions.
Today, chronic HCV is usually curable with more effective, better tolerated oral medications that clear the virus from your blood. Standard length of treatment ranges from 8 to 24 weeks, depending on the infected person’s genotype, viral load, liver condition and prior treatment experience and response. The goal of treatment is to achieve sustained viral response (SVR), which means that no virus is detected at least 12 weeks after treatment completion.
For more information about hepatitis C, visit one of the resources listed below: