Hepatitis C is a serious liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The hepatitis C virus is spread by blood contact with the blood of an infected person.
The hepatitis C virus can infect people of any age, but most of the people infected with HCV are between the ages of 15 and 44.
Most people infected with the hepatitis C virus don’t have any symptoms at all. But if you are infected, you could develop symptoms within weeks or months.
Symptoms of Hepatitis C
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain
- Itchy skin
The hepatitis C virus can also cause severe inflammation of the liver.
What Causes Hepatitis C?
The virus that causes hepatitis C is spread through blood. This occurs when a person has direct contact with the blood of an infected person.
It takes around 6 weeks for blood to become infected with the hepatitis C virus. You can transmit the virus during this time.
The virus then settles in your bloodstream. It can then pass to another person through a blood transfusion, needle stick, or contact with an infected person’s blood.
Anyone can get hepatitis C. It is more common in:
- People who have sex with other people
- People who use intravenous drugs
- People who have had a blood transfusion
You can also get hepatitis C if you have an infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV).
How Is Hepatitis C Diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. Your doctor may also ask you about:
- Your sexual history
- Your drug use
- Whether you’ve had a blood transfusion or are receiving treatment for hepatitis B or C
- Whether you’ve had a tattoo, piercing, or surgery
If you have symptoms that could be caused by hepatitis C, it is important to get tested.
Your doctor will order the following tests:
- Hepatitis C antibody test. This test checks whether you have antibodies to the hepatitis C virus.
- Hepatitis C viral load test. This test measures the amount of the virus in your blood.
- HCV genotype test. This test determines the type of hepatitis C virus.
If you have symptoms of hepatitis C, you should also get tested for HBV.
How Is Hepatitis C Treated?
Treatment depends on:
- Your age and overall health
- How severe your symptoms are
- Your HCV genotype
Treatment for hepatitis C is generally only needed if you have symptoms. If you don’t have symptoms, treatment isn’t needed.
When you have symptoms of hepatitis C, your doctor may recommend:
- Antiviral medicines
- A liver transplant
- Treatment with a combination of antiviral medicines and other medications
- Treatment with a combination of antiviral medicines and interferon injections
Treatment may also include a combination of antiviral medicines, interferon injections, and other medications.
How Can I Prevent Hepatitis C?
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. Your doctor can recommend what you can do to prevent the disease.
You can take the following steps to prevent hepatitis C:
- Avoid sharing needles or razors.
- Avoid sharing sharp objects.
- Use a condom during sex.
- Use a condom or dental dam during sex.
- Avoid sharing razors or toothbrushes.
- Get tested for hepatitis C.
What Is the Long-Term Outlook?
Most people with hepatitis C have no symptoms. In some cases, people may develop chronic hepatitis C. Chronic hepatitis C can be more serious than acute hepatitis C. If you have chronic hepatitis C, you may need to have treatment for the virus.
If you have acute hepatitis C, your symptoms should clear up within a few weeks. In some cases, the symptoms may last for months or years.
The outlook for people with chronic hepatitis C depends on how much liver damage they have. If the liver is very damaged, you may need a liver transplant.
If your liver is not as damaged, your symptoms should clear up within a few months. Most people with chronic hepatitis C can live long, healthy lives.
Outlook for People Who Have Been Diagnosed With Hepatitis C
Most people who are infected with the hepatitis C virus don’t have symptoms. In some cases, people with hepatitis C may develop chronic hepatitis C. In most cases, chronic hepatitis C can be easily treated.
If you are diagnosed with hepatitis C, you may have to take antiviral medicines for the rest of your life.
If your liver is not as damaged as it was when you were first diagnosed with hepatitis C, you can live a long, healthy life.
Prevention and Treatment for Hepatitis C
The best way to prevent hepatitis C is to not have sex with someone who has the virus. If you do have sex with someone who has the virus, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medicines to help prevent your infection.
A quick recap
The blood of an infected person can become infected with the hepatitis C virus. This can happen if you take a blood transfusion, have sexual contact, or have an IV injection with infected blood.
You can also get the virus from a needle stick, tattoo, or from a needle used for injection or chemotherapy. If you get the virus from an infected person’s blood, you can transmit the virus to someone who is not infected.
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