An estimated 3.2 million people in the United States are living with hepatitis C, and most don’t experience symptoms or know they’re infected. Digestive diseases specialist Kevin Mullen, MD, provides insight to help you protect yourself from this silent epidemic.
What is hepatitis C?
It’s a contagious liver disease caused by a virus. For some people, hepatitis C is a short-term illness, lasting only a few weeks. But for others, it’s a long-term, chronic infection that causes cancer or liver failure if left untreated.
What are the symptoms?
Most people infected with the hepatitis C virus do not feel sick at all. Some people show flu-like symptoms about one to three months after becoming infected. Other symptoms may include fatigue, nausea and vomiting, yellowish eyes and skin, dark-colored urine, and light-colored stools.
How is it spread?
Hepatitis C virus is spread through blood-to-blood contact. To protect yourself and others, cover wounds carefully, and avoid sharing nail clippers, razors, or toothbrushes; needles for injecting drugs or steroids; and tools for body piercings or tattoos. It’s rare, but you can also get hepatitis C from unprotected sex.
How is it diagnosed?
A simple blood test can be used to detect the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone born from 1945–1965 get tested for hepatitis C. Why baby boomers have higher rates of the disease is not completely understood. WVU Medicine now offers a Direct Access Testing service, which provides quick, easy, and affordable testing for adults ages 18 and older. The hepatitis C test is available for $10.
How is hepatitis C treated?
While there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, there are now more medications than ever before available to treat the disease. Antiviral medications will help clear the hepatitis C virus from your bloodstream, reduce inflammation and scarring of your liver, and lower your risk of developing cirrhosis and liver cancer. Treatment is now effective in more than 90 percent of patients.