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What is Hepatitis C ?

Hepatitis C is an infection that can lead to serious liver damage that is caused by a virus. About 3.9 million people in the U.S. have the disease. But it causes few symptoms, so most of them don't know. 

The virus spreads through an infected person’s blood or body fluids.  There are many forms of the hepatitis C virus, or HCV. The most common in the U.S. is type 1. None is more serious than any other, but they respond differently to treatment.

 

Stages of Hepatitis C  

The virus affects people in different ways and has several stages:

 

Incubation period

This is the time between first exposure to the start of the disease. It can last anywhere from 14 to 80 days, but the average is 45.

Acute hepatitis C

This is a short-term illness that lasts for the first 6 months after the virus enters your body. After that, some people who have it will get rid of, or clear, the virus on their own.

 

Chronic hepatitis C  

For most people who get hepatitis C -- up to 85% -- the illness moves into a long-lasting stage (longer than 6 months). This is called a chronic hepatitis C infection and can lead to serious health problems like liver cancer or cirrhosis.

 

Cirrhosis

This disease leads to inflammation that, over time, replaces your healthy liver cells with scar tissue. It usually takes about 20 to 30 years for this to happen, though it can be faster if you drink alcohol or have HIV.

 

Liver cancer

Cirrhosis makes liver cancer more likely. Your doctor will make sure you get regular tests because there are usually no symptoms in the early stages

 

What Are the Symptoms of Hepatitis C? 

Many people with hepatitis C have no symptoms. But between 2 weeks and 6 months after the virus enters your bloodstream, you could notice:

Change in stool or urine

Fever

Fatigue

Jaundice (a condition that causes yellow eyes and skin, as well as dark urine)

Joint pain

Loss of appetite / Nausea / Vomiting / Abdominal pain

Symptoms usually last for 2 to 12 weeks

 

How Do You Get Hepatitis C? 

Hepatitis C spreads when blood or body fluids contaminated with the hepatitis C virus get into your bloodstream through contact with an infected person.                               

 

You can be exposed to the virus from:

Sharing injection drugs and needles

Having sex, especially if you have HIV, another STD, several partners, or have rough sex

Being stuck by infected needles

Birth -- a mother can pass it to a child

Sharing personal care items like toothbrushes, razor blades, and nail clippers

Getting a tattoo or piercing with unclean equipment

 

The USPSTF (United States Preventive Services Task Force) now recommends that all adults aged 18 to 79 years be screened - Previously, it recommended screening adults born between 1945 and 1965 and others at high risk

 

Hepatitis C can be easily detected with a simple blood test and can be diagnosed and treated successfully in most cases