What is it?
Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Once the virus has invaded a cell, it reproduces quickly and eventually bursts the cell, which distributes new virus particles into a person’s bloodstream. The new viruses search for and continue to invade other liver cells. The infection does not go away in three out of four cases. The body’s immune response tries repeatedly to destroy the virus in the liver, which causes liver inflammation called hepatitis.
Who's at Risk?
People at risk of having HCV are those who:
- Have injected drugs or shared needles
- Have shared an apparatus to snort cocaine
- Have a job that exposes them to human blood
- Are hemodialysis patients
- Received a blood transfusion prior to 1990
- Have had unprotected sex with multiple partners
- Have had a body piercing or tattoo
- Live with a person who has hepatitis C
Acute infection with this virus rarely causes any symptoms. Nonspecific flu-type symptoms may be present in a small number of cases. Most people do not have any symptoms, and the virus can be present for decades. When symptoms do surface, they can include fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, and jaundice. Seventy-five percent of people develop a chronic infection that doesn’t go away. This can lead to liver scarring. Of those infected patients, 20 percent develop life-threatening liver failure 15 to 20 years after the initial infection. The risk of liver cancer increases at the 30-year point.
Blood tests and liver biopsy are used to determine if you have hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C Health Tips Video
This infectious disease, which primarily affects the liver, typically progresses slowly but can be life-threatening. Most people who are infected with the hepatitis C virus do not know that they are infected, and may show no symptoms for decades.