22013Mar

The Basics of Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is an infection that is caused by a virus (HCV).  The virus attacks the liver and causes it to become inflamed.  Individuals with the hepatitis C virus will experience long-term damage to their liver, also called cirrhosis.  Most people who have recently been infected with hepatitis C do not experience any symptoms at all.  Most people who have hepatitis C don’t know that they have the disease until decades later when they start to experience symptoms from damage that has happened to their liver from the long-term infection that they have experienced. 

Hepatitis C is passed through contact with contaminated blood.  The most commonly hepatitis C is transmitted through the use of needles shared during illegal drug use.   Other people who are at risk of contracting hepatitis C are: individuals who have been on long-term kidney dialysis; those who have regular contact with blood at work (like health care workers); those who have regular unprotected sexual contact with a person who has hepatitis C; were born to a mother with hepatitis C; received a tattoo or acupuncture with needles that were not properly disinfected after being using used on another person; received an organ transplant from a person with hepatitis C; share personal hygiene items, such as a toothbrush or razor, with someone who has hepatitis C (not very common); or received a blood transfusion (rare in the U.S.).

When symptoms and signs of hepatitis C do start to manifest in an individual they usually are mild and flu-like. Symptoms may include fatigue, fever, nausea, poor appetite, muscle and joint pains, gray colored stools, dark urine, and tenderness in the area of the liver.  People may also experience jaundice which is yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. 

Hepatitis C is diagnosed through blood tests.  The blood tests will determine whether you have the hepatitis C virus, measure the quantity of the hepatitis C virus in your blood (viral load); and evaluate the genetic makeup of the virus (genotyping), which will help determine your treatment options.  Treatment is not always necessary.  If your doctor determines that you do require treatment, antiviral mediations will most likely be used.  If you have any further questions regarding hepatitis C, please contact your gastroenterologist.

References:
1.  “Hepatitis C.”  Mayo Clinic.  Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.  May 24, 2011.  Web 1 March 2013.
2. “Hepatitis C.” PubMed Health.   National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.  November 16, 2012.  Web 1 March 2013.