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What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a contagious, blood-borne infection that affects the liver. It is spread through contact with the blood of someone infected with the hepatitis C virus. This can occur through a simple blood transfusion, injection drug use or an organ transplant. It can also be spread by non-sterile instruments when getting a tattoo or body piercing; and while rare, through sexual transmission.

The CDC estimates that 3.2 million people in the U.S. have hepatitis C with approximately 75 percent of those infected being baby boomers born between 1945 and 1965. The CDC believes many may have been infected in the 1970s and 1980s when hepatitis C rates were high. In addition, baby boomers may have become infected from contaminated blood used prior to 1992 when comprehensive screening for the hepatitis C virus was not in place.

The CDC recommends testing for hepatitis C, as early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer and other complications.

Symptoms

Hepatitis C is known as the silent killer as it may take decades to develop and many people have no symptoms. If symptoms such as those listed below do occur, see a healthcare professional as it could be a sign of serious liver damage.

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Dark Urine
  • Grey-colored stools
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice

Diagnosis and Treatment

A simple, one-time blood test is used to detect the presence of hepatitis C antibodies in a patient’s blood. If the antibodies are present, additional tests are needed to confirm a chronic hepatitis C infection. 

Prevention

Avoid exposure to the blood of anyone who is infected with hepatitis C. The virus can be spread by:

  • Sharing needles, syringes or other equipment used to inject drugs
  • Unsterile instruments in non-reputable tattoo or body piercing shops
  • Sharing personal items, such as razors, that may have come in contact with an infected person’s blood
  • Sex, although it is rare

For more information about hepatitis C, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/C/index.htm.

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