What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a leading cause of liver disease. Most people with HCV don’t have any symptoms for many years. During this time, HCV may be slowly attacking the liver. By the time symptoms finally do appear, the liver is often already harmed.

How serious can an HCV infection be?

HCV can be very serious. Over 70% of people with it will develop chronic infection. If left untreated, chronic infection can lead to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis). It can also lead to liver cancer or liver failure. People with liver failure might need a new liver. This is why HCV is the #1 cause of liver transplants.

How is HCV treated?

Doctors treat HCV with antiviral drugs. If taken early, they can help keep the infection from becoming chronic. They can also help prevent liver damage. If taken later, they can help stop liver damage from getting worse. Most often, they can even cure the infection. Newer drugs, called direct-acting agents (DAAs), are more effective. They have fewer side effects and don’t have to be taken as long.

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a liver disease that could be affecting your health.

75% of adults infected with HCV are baby boomers. Most of them don’t even know they’re infected, since often there are no symptoms. But over the years, the virus can do serious damage to the liver. So knowing you are infected is the first step to getting treatment that could delay or prevent liver damage.

What you need to know about HCV

HCV is a “silent” disease. Most people with HCV have no symptoms. They can be infected for years or even decades before symptoms show up. By that time, they may have serious liver damage. When symptoms do occur, they can seem nonspecific. These symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Stomach pain
  • Joint pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dark urine
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)

HCV damages liver cells. Normally, the liver removes harmful substances from your blood. It also makes proteins needed for blood clotting and bile acids that help with fat digestion. In chronic HCV infection, the virus damages liver cells. This can lead to cirrhosis (scarring), liver cancer, or even liver failure. More than half the people infected with HCV develop chronic liver disease, 5% to 20% develop cirrhosis, and 1% to 5% will die of cirrhosis or liver cancer. These statistics could be changed for the better if more people knew they were infected.

Hepatitis C virus is serious business

  • Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplants.
  • It can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and liver failure.
  • Left untreated, it can lead to death.

Take action with a simple blood test

The CDC now recommends that everyone born between 1945 and 1965 take a one-time blood test to check for HCV antibodies. If you test ‘negative’, then you know you don’t have the virus. A ‘positive’ antibody result means that you have been infected. But other tests are needed to find out if you still have the infection. If you are infected, treatments are available that may be able to slow or stop the damage to your liver. Many patients may even be cured. Your doctor will tell you what steps you can take.

Did you know?

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urges everyone born between 1945 and 1965 (baby boomers) to get a one-time blood test to see if they have the Hepatitis C virus.
  • Baby boomers make up 27% of the U.S. population, yet they account for 75% of Hepatitis C cases.
  • An estimated 3.2 million people are living with Hepatitis C.
  • In 2007, 15,000 deaths were caused by Hepatitis C, surpassing those caused by AIDS.

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