When To See A Healthcare Provider
If you develop any of the symptoms of chronic hepatitis, liver damage, or liver cancer, see your healthcare provider. It takes only a blood test to detect the presence of a hepatitis virus in your body .
A blood test also can determine which hepatitis virus youâre infected with, which will determine what your treatment should be .
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Baby Boomers Are Especially Vulnerable
âThe hepatitis C virus didnât have a name or a screening test until in 1989,â Reau says. âThat means people born between 1945 and 1965, the group referred to as âbaby boomers,â are at highest risk of infection. They grew up before health care facilities started taking standard precautions, like not sharing vials of medicine among patients and requiring staff to wear gloves.â
The CDC reports that baby boomers are five times more likely to have Hepatitis C than other adults, accounting for 75% of those living with the disease.
These are some other reasons you may be at risk:
- You have engaged in high-risk behaviors like IV drug use or unprotected sex
- Your biological mother has/had hepatitis C
- You received blood transfusions, an organ transplant or dialysis before 1989
- You were or are currently incarcerated
What Can Parents Do
Although health officials are not certain the adenovirus is causing the recent hepatitis clusters, parents can take steps to prevent transmission. Adenovirus spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets or through touching a surface with adenovirus on it. Children should be encouraged to wash their hands often and avoid touching their face and mouth to the extent it is possible many of the same measures that help prevent the spread of Covid.
Parents should also remember that the C.D.C. alert is not a call for action or alarm. The overall risk of an otherwise healthy child suddenly developing severe hepatitis remains extremely low. Health officials simply want to alert pediatricians and other health care providers who may see young patients with hepatitis that they should now screen for adenovirus.
Treatment varies based on the type of hepatitis that a child has. For some types of viral hepatitis, there are drugs that can suppress or eliminate the virus, Dr. Weymann said. But for the vast majority of cases like when a child comes in with liver inflammation and adenovirus doctors focus on preventing or managing complications.
That usually is sufficient, since the liver is really good at healing itself, he added.
Parents notice what their kids look like all the time. Thats what we do, Dr. Rathore said. I dont believe that if a childs skin color changes that a parent is going to say, Oh, thats OK, lets wait and see what happens tomorrow.
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Testing For Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is usually diagnosed using 2 blood tests: the antibody test and the PCR test. These can be as part of a routine blood test or are often combined as a dried blood spot test. The dried blood spot test is similar to a blood sugar test in pricking the finger to get a blood spot that is put on a testing card. This is then sent to a laboratory to be tested.
Another similar test is an antigen test, which if used can often get the results back in 90 minutes. This is very expensive and not many services have access to the machine needed.
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What Symptoms Should Parents Watch For
Hepatitis symptoms are wide-ranging and overlap with many common illnesses. A child with hepatitis may experience fever , fatigue, joint or muscle pain, loss of appetite or nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.
Children may also have abdominal pain or tenderness, particularly in the right upper abdomen, which is where the liver is located, Dr. Weymann said, and it is important to seek urgent medical attention any time a child shows sign of severe pain when their abdomen is touched. Doctors may consider other possible causes of abdominal pain, like appendicitis. Some children may have darker urine, or pale or clay-colored stools.
Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes, is a hallmark sign of hepatitis although it is possible to have significant liver inflammation and show no signs of jaundice.
The first change is in the eyes: The white part begins to look yellow, Dr. Weymann said.
He noted that it can be more difficult to detect jaundice in children who have darker skin, so parents should take even subtle changes in tone seriously.
Typically, one wont see dramatic jaundice until the inflammation or dysfunction of the liver has progressed quite far already, Dr. Weymann said.
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Enlargement Of The Parotid Gland
In hepatitis C, salivary glands and other oral structures are often taken along with the liver. Patients develop an increase in size and pain in the parotid gland, and other salivary glands can also be involved. Thus, patients with chronic sialadenitis should be tested for hepatitis C infections, especially if they have a high risk of the disease.
As noted above, the signs and symptoms of hepatitis C are slightly different from those we classically know. They are often unspecific and very vague in the early stage of the disease, and patients go through the chronic phase of the disease without even knowing. Then, and only when the liver is severely affected by hepatitis C, jaundice, bleeding, swelling of the liver, and edema are found. But then it might be too late to do something about it.
Thus, we do not recommend waiting for symptoms of hepatitis C. If youre at risk of hepatitis C transmission due to blood transfusions, drug use, unprotected sex, needle pricks, or any other safety breach, you need to test for hepatitis C instead of waiting for the signs and symptoms.
What Are The Different Types Of Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C can be acute or chronic. How long you experience symptoms will depend on the type you have.
Acute hepatitis C involves more short-term symptoms that typically last 6 months or less but acute hepatitis often leads to chronic hepatitis. When hepatitis C lasts longer than 6 months, its considered chronic.
Without treatment, you may have chronic hepatitis your whole life, since your body often cant get rid of the virus easily. Some people do get better without treatment, although treatment can go a long way toward improving the outlook.
Hepatitis C wont necessarily become chronic.
As a matter of fact, for anywhere from 15 to 45 percent of people with acute hepatitis C, the virus will clear up without treatment. In other words, if you dont have any symptoms, hepatitis C could improve on its own before you ever know you have it.
However, if your body cant get rid of the hepatitis C virus, the infection wont go away. Instead, it will become chronic, or long-term.
Experts arent sure why some people develop the chronic form of the disease and others dont. But more than half of all people with the hepatitis C virus will eventually develop the chronic form, according to the
Since hepatitis C symptoms can resemble those of other health conditions, your symptoms alone if you have any may not make it clear that you have hepatitis C.
A doctor or other healthcare professional may recommend getting tested if you:
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What Are The Treatments For Hepatitis C
Treatment for hepatitis C is with antiviral medicines. They can cure the disease in most cases.
If you have acute hepatitis C, your health care provider may wait to see if your infection becomes chronic before starting treatment.
If your hepatitis C causes cirrhosis, you should see a doctor who specializes in liver diseases. Treatments for health problems related to cirrhosis include medicines, surgery, and other medical procedures. If your hepatitis C leads to liver failure or liver cancer, you may need a liver transplant.
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Diagnosis Of The Hepatitis C Virus
Initially, the doctor will perform a blood test to determine whether or not there is any infection present. If an infection is detected, the doctor will then order an ultrasound test to see whether there are any signs of cirrhosis or liver cancer. In cases where ultrasound results are unclear, the doctor may order additional tests, such as a CT scan or MRI. For some patients, doctors may recommend a liver biopsy which involves inserting a thin needle through the abdominal wall to remove a small sample of liver tissue for laboratory testing. This is another method used for accurate diagnosis before treatment.
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How Is Hepatitis C Infection Prevented
Unfortunately, there is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. To reduce your risk of getting hepatitis C:
- Injection drug use is the most common way people get hepatitis C. Avoid injecting drugs to reduce your risk. If you do inject drugs, use sterile injection equipment. Avoid reusing or sharing.
- Avoid sharing personal care items that might have blood on them
- If you are a health care or public safety worker, follow universal blood/body fluid precautions and safely handle needles and other sharps
- Consider the risks if you are thinking about tattooing, body piercing, or acupuncture are the instruments properly sterilized?
- If youre having sex with more than one partner, use latex condoms correctly and every time to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including hepatitis C.
Most Common Symptoms Of Hepatitis C To Watch For
Because the symptoms can easily be mistaken for a mild stomach flu, food poisoning, dehydration, eating something you are allergic to, menstrual cramping and a number of other common occurrences, it is easy to see why so many people miss an acute Hepatitis C diagnosis.
Chronic Hepatitis C
For the majority of immune systems that are unable to mount a strong enough response to eliminate Hepatitis C from the liver, this infection becomes chronic. The longer the Hepatitis C virus resides in the body, the more inflammation and damage can be done to the liver.
Over time, soft, healthy liver tissue accumulates scars from the virus and becomes fibrotic. Known as liver fibrosis, this is a sign that liver disease is progressing.
If inflammation and liver cell damage continue, the liver can become cirrhotic. Characterized by the hardening and shrinking of liver tissue, liver cirrhosis is an advanced stage of liver disease. Once a person has severe fibrosis or cirrhosis as a consequence of Hepatitis C infection, more complex symptoms emerge.
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Symptoms Of Chronic Hepatitis C
Acute Hepatitis C Recognition and Transmission
Since the symptoms of acute Hepatitis C are so vague, more information is needed to suspect this virus as the cause of fatigue and bellyache.
The following information is important regarding acute Hepatitis C:
- Symptom time frame In those individuals who develop symptoms from acute Hepatitis C infection, the average time from exposure to symptoms ranges from 2 to 12 weeks.
- Contagious Even if a person with Hepatitis C has no symptoms, he or she can still spread the Hepatitis C virus to others.
- How you get it The Hepatitis C virus is blood-borne, meaning contaminated blood must enter your bloodstream for infection to occur.
It is important to understand how the virus is transmitted to be able to recognize what early symptoms of Hepatitis C could be.
The Hepatitis C virus itself is small and resilient. A microscopic amount of blood can transmit the virus and it can live outside of your body in open air for at least four days. Inside of a syringe, the virus can live for several weeks. As such, sharing injection drug equipment presents the highest risk for Hepatitis C transmission.
Hepatitis C transmission should be suspected if:
When To Seek Medical Advice
See your GP if you persistently have any of the later symptoms listed, or if they keep returning. They may recommend having a blood test that can check for hepatitis C.
Read more about diagnosing hepatitis C
None of these symptoms mean you definitely have hepatitis C, but its important to get them checked out.
You should also speak to your GP about getting tested if theres a risk youre infected, even if you dont have any symptoms. This particularly includes people who inject drugs or have done so in the past.
Read about the causes of hepatitis C for more information about whos at risk of having the infection.
Page last reviewed: 27 October 2021 Next review due: 27 October 2024
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Who Should Get Tested
The CDC recommends that you get tested at least once no matter what. Definitely get screened if any of these things apply to you:
- Had a blood transfusion before 1992
- Received blood products for clotting problems before 1987
- Have high-risk sex
- Live with or care for someone who has HCV
- Were born between 1945 and 1965
- Ever shared tools to snort cocaine
- Were born to a mother with hepatitis C
Learn more on why you should get tested for hepatitis C.
How Can I Prevent Getting Hepatitis C
There is no vaccine to prevent Hepatitis C, but there is research being done to develop one. Currently, vaccines are only available for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B.
Remember that Hepatitis C is transmitted or spread when the blood from a Hepatitis C-infected person enters the bloodstream of someone who is not infected. If you dont have Hepatitis C, you can reduce your risk of becoming infected by doing the following:
- If youre injecting drugs, try to get into a treatment program. If you continue to use drugs, dont share needles or other equipment with anyone else. Many cities have needle exchange programs that provide free, sterile needles.
- Make sure all equipment has been sterilized if youre getting body piercings or a tattoo.
- If youre a healthcare worker follow your institutions safety precautions. For example, wear protective clothing and gloves and dispose of contaminated sharp objects properly.
- If you have more than one sex partner or are a man having sex with other men, use condoms for intercourse.
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Cirrhosis Of The Liver
When permanent scar tissue replaces healthy liver cells and your liver loses the ability to function, its called cirrhosis. In this condition, your liver can no longer heal itself. This can cause a variety of health concerns, including a buildup of fluid in your abdomen and bleeding from veins in the esophagus.
When the liver fails to filter toxins, they can build up in your bloodstream and impair brain function. Cirrhosis of the liver can sometimes develop into liver cancer. This risk is greater in people who drink excess alcohol. Treatment of cirrhosis depends on the progression of the condition.
Chronic hepatitis C can cause serious long-term health consequences when it leads to liver scarring. End-stage hepatitis C occurs when the liver is severely damaged and can no longer function properly.
Symptoms may include:
- abdominal swelling
- muddled thinking
People with cirrhosis may also experience bleeding in the esophagus, as well as brain and nervous system damage.
A liver transplant is the only treatment for end-stage liver disease. Those whove had hepatitis C and received a liver transplant almost always see a return of the infection. Because the disease recurs, treatment of the viral infection usually follows transplant surgery.
Because alcohol is processed in the liver, consumption of excess alcohol can hasten liver damage, so its important to not drink it. Damage also progresses faster in people with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV.
Diagnosis Of Hepatitis C
If you are at risk of hepatitis C infection, or think you may have been exposed to hepatitis C in the past, see your doctor for an assessment of your liver health. This will include blood tests and possibly a non-invasive test for liver damage .
There are 2 blood tests used to diagnose hepatitis C. Usually these can be done at the same time but sometimes they will be done separately.
The first test known as a hepatitis C antibody test can tell you whether you have ever been exposed to hepatitis C.
It may take 2 to 3 months from the time of infection until a blood test can detect antibodies to hepatitis C, so there is a window period during which you cannot tell if you are or have been infected. In this time, take precautions to prevent the potential spread of the virus.
The second test is called hepatitis C PCR, which will be done if the antibody test is positive. This determines if the virus is still present in your blood or liver or if you have already cleared the infection.
If you have cleared the virus or had successful treatment to cure it, the PCR test will be negative.
A liver ultrasound or Fibroscan can also be performed to assess if you have any liver damage.
If your doctor is inexperienced in diagnosing hepatitis C you can call the LiverLine on for information, and to find a GP who can help you.
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How Do People Get Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C virus is found in the blood of people with HCV infection. It enters the body through blood-to-blood contact.
Until reliable blood tests for HCV were developed , people usually got hepatitis C from blood products and blood transfusions. Now that blood and blood products are tested for HCV, this is no longer the typical means of infection.
Currently, people usually get hepatitis C by sharing needles for injection drug use. An HCV-infected woman can pass the infection to her baby during birth. It is also possible to get hepatitis C from an infected person through sexual contact, an accidental needlestick with a contaminated needle, or improperly sterilized medical, acupuncture, piercing, or tattooing equipment.