Hepatitis is a general term used to describe inflammation of the liver. If hepatitis is caused by a virus, it is given a letter that corresponds to the type of virus. Hepatitis C is a type of virus that can cause chronic infection, meaning it will live in your liver forever, unless it is treated.
When a person becomes infected with hepatitis C, he or she may not experience any symptoms. In some cases, mild symptoms such as fatigue, or severe symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, jaundice and/or dark urine may occur. When left untreated, hepatitis C may lead to severe liver complications such as cirrhosis and liver cancer. Since hepatitis C may not produce any symptoms, it often goes undetected until these complications develop. That’s why it is important to detect the virus early and seek treatment immediately.
Hepatitis C is transmitted when a person comes in contact with contaminated blood. Activities that may increase the risk for getting hepatitis include sharing injection needles, body piercing, tattoos, hemodialysis and receiving blood transfusions (especially those received before 1992). Recent studies show the vast majority of people infected with hepatitis C were born between 1945 and 1965, and most of those individuals are not aware they have the infection.
Testing for Hepatitis C
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends anyone with risk factors for hepatitis C get tested. Your regular doctor can perform a simple blood test to determine if antibodies to the hepatitis C virus are present. If the test shows antibodies are present, it means you were infected with the virus at some point. It is important to note antibodies to the hepatitis C virus will always be present in a person who has been infected, even if he or she has been cleared of the virus.
In the past, treatment for hepatitis C was not very efficient. Treatments often had a number of unpleasant side effects, required six to 12 months of therapy and worked less than half of the time. Newer medications offer patients a cure from the virus with minimal side effects and, in many cases, treatment only takes 12 weeks. This big change in the way hepatitis C is treated has improved the life of many patients, and, as more research is conducted, we expect the treatment options to continue to cure hepatitis C in better and more efficient ways.