With over 2.4 million Americans living with the Hepatitis C virus and over 44,000 new infections each year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Hepatitis C affects the lives of many people in our country. Because symptoms do not usually present until the later stages of the disease, the CDC estimates that only 50% of people infected with Hepatitis C are aware they have the disease. That’s why it is important to know the facts about Hepatitis C and what you can do to avoid infection. In this article, we answer the most frequently asked questions about Hepatitis C.

What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a disease of the liver that is caused by the Hepatitis C virus. There are two types of infection: acute and chronic. Acute Hepatitis C is a short-term infection that occurs within six months of being exposed to the Hepatitis C virus. More than 50% of people who are infected with Hepatitis C will develop a chronic infection, which can be lifelong and result in potentially serious liver damage and health problems.

How does Hepatitis C spread?
Hepatitis C is usually transmitted through contact with infectious blood, which can occur in situations such as sharing needles or other drug usage equipment, contact with non-sterile equipment or needle-stick injuries in medical settings, and non-sterile tattoo or piercing tools. There is also a small risk of infection from sharing grooming tools like toothbrushes or razors, transmission via sexual contact, and being born to a mother infected by Hepatitis C.

Can Hepatitis C be spread through other forms of contact?
No, Hepatitis C is only spread through contact with blood from a person infected with the virus. It is not spread by other contact such as kissing, sharing eating utensils, or via coughing or sneezing. It is not transmitted by mosquitoes or other insects.

Who is at high risk for contracting Hepatitis C?

  • Current or former intravenous or intranasal drug users
  • People who received blood transfusions or organ transplants prior to July 1992 before Hepatitis C screening became standard
  • Healthcare workers exposed to needles
  • Infants of Hepatitis C-infected mothers
  • HIV-infected persons
  • People tattooed or pierced with non-sterile instruments

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis C?
Most people with acute Hepatitis C do not have any symptoms. However, symptoms such as fever, fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, dark urine, joint pain and (in some cases) jaundice may occur within two to 12 weeks of infection. Similarly, many people with chronic Hepatitis C do not have any symptoms until severe liver disease such as cirrhosis or liver cancer occurs – sometimes decades after contracting Hepatitis C.

Can you spread Hepatitis C if you don’t have symptoms?
Yes, any person with Hepatitis C can spread it to others, even if they have no symptoms.

Who should get tested for Hepatitis C?
Anyone who is at risk for Hepatitis C should be tested, especially those in the high-risk category. Testing is also recommended for pregnant women. Additionally, Baby Boomers are five times more likely to have Hepatitis, and the CDC recommends that any person born between 1945 and 1965 should be tested for Hepatitis C.

Is there a vaccine that can prevent Hepatitis C?
No, unlike for Hepatitis A and B, there is no current vaccine available for Hepatitis C.

What is the treatment for Hepatitis C?
Although some people with acute Hepatitis C infection may clear the virus without intervention, most patients will require close monitoring by their doctor and treatment if the disease becomes chronic. Treatment has drastically improved over the years with newer medications causing fewer side effects and shorter treatment periods. New, direct-acting antiviral drugs (DAAs) have shown through research to be highly effective in curing patients with a 95% to 100% cure rate.

What lifestyle changes can help someone with Hepatitis C?
Healthy lifestyle habits are important for everyone, but they are especially important for patients living with Hepatitis C. This includes maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise and eating a healthy diet. Alcohol can cause liver damage and should be avoided. Patients should also check with their doctor before taking any medications, including over-the-counter medicines or supplements.

Treatments that can cure Hepatitis C are available at GastroIntestinal Specialists.
The Liver Center at GastroIntestinal Specialists, A.M.C., is the No. 2 prescriber of Hepatitis medication in the United States. Our team is highly experienced in evaluating, treating and caring for patients with Hepatitis C. To schedule an appointment, call our clinic at  (318) 631-9121.