Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Over time, HCV can lead to cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer. Most people who have hepatitis C don’t have any symptoms for years. Many don’t know that they are infected until their liver is already damaged.
Are you at risk?
Hepatitis C is spread by contact with the blood of someone who has HCV. These factors raise your risk for hepatitis C:
- Injecting yourself with illegal drugs, even if it was only once or a long time ago
- Receiving a clotting factor to treat a blood-clotting problem before 1987
- Having an organ transplant or blood transfusion before July, 1992
- Coming in contact with blood infected with HCV through a job in the health field
- Having hemodialysis for a long time
- Living with someone who has HCV and sharing razors, toothbrushes, or other personal items that may have blood on them
- Having sex with someone who has HCV
Women with HCV may also pass the virus to their baby at birth. It’s possible to get hepatitis C by getting a tattoo or piercing with tools that are not sterilized. You can’t get hepatitis C through casual contact with someone who has HCV. You can't get HCV by hugging or kissing someone who is infected.
If you think that you might be at risk, ask your health care provider for a test just to be safe.
Your health care provider may decide to do more than 1 test to make sure of the results and to see how much your liver has been affected.
A positive result
A health care provider who finds that you have hepatitis C may refer you to a liver specialist for more testing. Some people with hepatitis C develop liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. But most never have major liver problems.
Infection is most common among those born during 1945-1965. The majority of these people were probably infected during the 1970s and 1980s when rates were highest.
Health care providers usually treat hepatitis C with medications. These drugs work best in the early stages of the disease, so most people start to receive treatment soon after they are diagnosed.
These drugs can cause unpleasant side effects, such as flu-like symptoms, hair loss, low red blood cell count, and depression. Talk with your health care provider about any side effects you have.
March 10, 2016
Holloway, Beth, RN, MEd