Hepatitis C is a contagious form of liver inflammation caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which spreads primarily from contact with the infected blood of another person. The virus, which can live outside the body for up to three weeks, can be transmitted even by tiny amounts of blood not visible to the naked eye. As a result, infection may occur in ways that are not immediately obvious.
In about 70-80 percent of acute, or newly occurring, cases of HCV infection, those infected experience no symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they typically resemble those of a mild case of the flu: fatigue, aching joints, muscle soreness, nausea or stomach pain, loss of appetite, fever, dark urine, and possibly jaundice (yellowing) of the eyes and skin.
Most people with acute hepatitis C also develop chronic, or long-term, disease, with the virus slowly damaging the liver over the course of several years. Eventually, many people with hepatitis C develop cirrhosis, or scarring, of the liver, and some may develop liver cancer.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 3-4 million people in the United States are living with chronic hepatitis C. Although anyone potentially can become infected, hepatitis C is particularly prevalent among baby boomers (those born between 1945 and 1965). Health experts aren’t sure why this is the case, but it’s believed that most baby boomers with HCV may have contracted the virus before its discovery in 1989.
The good news is that hepatitis C can be cured in about 95 percent of cases, thanks to recent advances in medical treatment. People are considered to be cured when a blood test administered three months after their last treatment finds no HCV in their blood.
If you are a baby boomer—or if, regardless of your age, you have been exposed to other people’s blood or think you may have been exposed—ask your doctor about the hepatitis C test.
Methods of Infection:
• Tattooing or piercing with nonsterile instruments
• Sharing personal items like toothbrushes or razors
• Receiving donated blood or blood products before 1992, when the screening test for hepatitis C was developed