Hepatitis C is an infectious liver disease caused by the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). As a blood-borne virus, HCV is spread primarily through blood-to-blood contact resulting in short-term illness or a long-term, chronic infection. Chronic HCV, which affects 70-85% of those infected, is a serious disease. It can result in long-term health problems or even death. Most people who have it may not be aware of the infection because they do not feel sick or display symptoms. Although there is no vaccine for HCV, new anti-virus medications are available and, for the first time in the history of this disease, patients are being effectively treated and cured.
You can be infected with HCV for years before the first symptoms appear or you can begin having symptoms between one and three months after infection. 70-80 percent of people with HCV do not have symptoms, but for those who do, they may include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Extreme fatigue
- Yellowing skin and eyes
- Light-colored stools
- Dark-colored urine
Some people may have an increased risk HCV because they fall into affected groups or engage in certain behaviors. They are:
- Anyone who has used or is using intravenous or intranasal drugs
- Newborns whose mothers are hepatitis C positive
- People who have received contaminated blood products/transfusions
- Health care workers who are accidentally pricked with infected needles
- People living with HIV
- People who have received tattoos, body piercings, or nail salon services with instruments that are not properly sterilized
- People who have had sexual contact with an infected person (although infection from this kind of contact happens infrequently)
- People who have shared personal items - like razors or toothbrushes - that have touched blood
- Adults who were born during the period between 1945 and 1965
- Patients who received clotting factor concentrates made before 1987
- Patients who have been on long-term hemodialysis
- People who were notified that they received blood from a donor who later tested positive for hepatitis C infection
- Anyone who received a transfusion of blood, blood products or an organ transplant before July 1992
- Health care workers exposed to blood or needles while treating hepatitis C positive patients
When to See a Doctor
In many cases, patients feel fine and do not exhibit symptoms until the liver is severely damaged, so it’s important to know the risk factors. If you have one or more risk factors or are experiencing symptoms that may be related to HCV, it’s time to see a doctor. Undiagnosed HCV can lead to serious complications, including liver failure or liver cancer.
It is important to seek diagnosis and treatment for HCV because of the potential to develop serious ailments such as chronic liver disease, liver cancer or cirrhosis of the liver. Hepatitis C can be successfully treated with antiviral medication. New medications recently approved by the FDA are effective and offer patients treatment regimens that are shorter and easier to tolerate. Statistics show that greater than 70% of people who undergo treatment are cured.
The foremost diagnostic “test” for any condition is a thorough exam and consultation with a physician, including a review of your individual and family history. In addition, your physician may recommend any of the following tests or procedures, which may provide further diagnostic value:
- Antibody Test
- Viral Load Testing
In some cases, standard diagnostic tests are not conclusive and additional testing may be necessary to confirm a diagnosis. These may include:
- Genotypic Testing
If you have concerns, are experiencing symptoms, or fall in to one or more risk categories, talk to your doctor about screening for HCV.