What Are The Symptoms Of Hepatitis C
People who are infected with hepatitis C often do not have any symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they may be similar to those of flu. Symptoms usually take from 2 weeks to 6 months after exposure to the virus before they occur.
Symptoms of acute hepatitis C may include:
- Achiness in the joints or muscles
- Loss of appetite
- Tenderness in the area of the liver
Symptoms of liver damage associated with chronic hepatitis may include jaundice , itching, and slowed thinking.
Causes And Risk Factors
HCV causes hepatitis C. People contract the virus through blood-to-blood contact with contaminated blood. For transmission to occur, blood containing HCV must enter the body of a person without HCV.
A speck of blood, invisible to the naked eye, can carry hundreds of hepatitis C virus particles, and the virus is not easy to kill.
The report the following risk factors for developing hepatitis C:
- using or having used injectable drugs, which is currently the most common route in the U.S.
- receiving transfusions or organ transplants before 1992, which is before blood screening became available
- having exposure to a needle stick, which is most common in people who work in healthcare
- being born to a mother who has hepatitis C
The CDC offer advice on cleaning syringes if it is not possible to use clean and sterile ones. Although bleach can kill the HCV in syringes, it may not have the same effect on other equipment. Boiling, burning and using alcohol, peroxide, or other common cleaning fluids to wash equipment can reduce the amount of HCV but might not stop a person from contracting the infection.
It is extremely dangerous to inject bleach, disinfectant, or other cleaning products, so people should make sure they rinse the syringe thoroughly. A person should only ever use bleach to clean equipment if new, sterile syringes and equipment are not available.
People who are at risk due to these factors can have screening to rule out HCV.
- peginterferon alfa-2a
What Are Signs Of Hepatitis C
When you first get hepatitis C, it is called acutehepatitis C. About 15% of people who have acutehepatitis C infection clear the virus from their bodies.The other 85% of people develop a chronic hepatitis C infection. Of these, 50 to 80%, if treated,may be cured.
Acute hepatitis C: Most people with acutehepatitis C do not have any signs. If signs occur, theaverage time is 6-7 weeks after exposure, but can beless or more. Some people can have mild to severesigns including:
- Yellow skin or eyes
- A longer than normal amount of time for bleeding to stop
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If You Notice Symptoms See A Doctor Right Away
Symptoms of hepatitis C include the following:
- Jaundice a yellowish tone to the eyes and skin
- Mild, chronic right belly pain
- Loss of appetite
If you believe you have been exposed to hepatitis C or notice any symptoms, visit your primary care doctor as soon as possible. If you test positive for the virus, your doctor can refer you to a hepatologist to discuss your options.
âI strongly encourage all baby boomers and others who are at high risk to get tested, even if you donât look or feel sick,â Reau says. âIf you do have hepatitis C, the earlier we discover it, the more likely we can prevent it from progressing and causing more serious damage.â
Getting Tested Is The Only Way To Know If You Have Hepatitis C
A blood test called a hepatitis C antibody test can tell if you have been infected with the hepatitis C viruseither recently or in the past. If you have a positive antibody test, another blood test is needed to tell if you are still infected or if you were infected in the past and cleared the virus on your own.
- Are 18 years of age and older
- Currently inject drugs
- Have ever injected drugs, even if it was just once or many years ago
- Have abnormal liver tests or liver disease
- Are on hemodialysis
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Who Is At Risk Of Hepatitis C
Anyone can get hepatitis C. It is important for peopleat high risk of infection to be tested and treated forhepatitis C. In the U.S., you are at a higher risk if you:
- Have ever used a needle to inject drugs, even if once and long ago
- Had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992
- Are a health care worker who had blood exposure to mucous membranes or to non-intact skin, or a needlestick injury
- Have ever been on kidney dialysis
- Were born of a mother who had hepatitis C at the time
- Are a Vietnam-era Veteran
- Had contact with hepatitis-C-positive blood to nonintact skin or to mucous membranes
- Received tattoos or body piercings in non-regulated settings
- Have ever snorted drugs or shared drug equipment
- Have liver disease
- Have a history of alcohol abuse
- Have hemophilia and received clotting factor before 1987
- Have had a sexual partner with hepatitis C, now or in the past
- Have had 10 or more lifetime sexual partners
- Have HIV infection
The only way to know if you haveHepatitis C is to be tested. VA offershepatitis C testing and treatment toenrolled Veterans.
Sharing Toothbrushes Scissors And Razors
There’s a potential risk that hepatitis C may be passed on through sharing items such as toothbrushes, razors and scissors, as they can become contaminated with infected blood.
Equipment used by hairdressers, such as scissors and clippers, can pose a risk if it has been contaminated with infected blood and not been sterilised or cleaned between customers. However, most salons operate to high standards, so this risk is low.
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What Is Viral Hepatitis
Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. The liver is a vital organ that processes nutrients, filters the blood, and fights infections. When the liver is inflamed or damaged, its function can be affected. Heavy alcohol use, toxins, some medications, and certain medical conditions can cause hepatitis. However, hepatitis is often caused by a virus. In the United States, the most common types of viral hepatitis are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.
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Recent Increases In Hepatitis C Infections
Between 2013 and 2020, the reported number of acute HCV infections more than doubled. High rates of new infections were predominantly among young adults aged 20-29 years and aged 30-39 years. The number of cases continues to increase, in 2020 an estimated 66,700 new HCV infections occurred in the United States. For the most recent surveillance data visit CDC Viral Hepatitis Surveillance.
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Why Should I Get Treated
Hepatitis C can be fatal when left untreated.
Untreated hepatitis C can lead to scarring of the liver known as cirrhosis.
A small number of people with cirrhosis will go on to get liver failure, the only treatment for which is a liver transplant. A small proportion of people with cirrhosis develop liver cancer.
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How Do Doctors Treat The Complications Of Hepatitis C
If hepatitis C leads to cirrhosis, you should see a doctor who specializes in liver diseases. Doctors can treat the health problems related to cirrhosis with medicines, surgery, and other medical procedures. If you have cirrhosis, you have an increased chance of liver cancer. Your doctor may order an ultrasound test to check for liver cancer.
If hepatitis C leads to liver failure or liver cancer, you may need a liver transplant.
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How Is Hepatitis C Diagnosed
The doctor will take the patients medical history and perform a physical examination. As part of the physical exam, the doctor will look for signs of liver damage, including tenderness in the abdomen, swelling in the legs, feet or ankles, or signs of jaundice, such as yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes.
Several blood tests may be used to test for hepatitis C. The first blood test is antibody testing for hepatitis C.
If antibodies are found, that means that the person was exposed to hepatitis C at some point. A blood test called a PCR RNA can determine if the blood is still infected with the active virus. If the result is positive, it means that the person is currently infected with hepatitis C. If the PCR RNA is negative but the antibody testing was positive, this means that the patient has been exposed to the virus in the past but currently does not have an active infection.
A person who has hepatitis C may have to have a liver biopsy or a liver fibrosis scan to tell if the liver is damaged, and how much damage has occurred.
You should be referred to a specialist who has experience in treating hepatitis C as soon as you are diagnosed with active hepatitis C infection.
Talking With Your Doctor
If youve been diagnosed with hepatitis C, youll see a hepatologist. A hepatologist is a doctor who specializes in liver diseases. Your hepatologist will evaluate any liver damage and discuss your treatment options.
Its important to get treated as soon as possible. New medications that have been introduced in recent years can cure hepatitis C and prevent liver complications in most people.
Along with taking prescribed medications, you can consider talking with your healthcare team about other steps you can take to protect your liver as well as your overall health and wellness. Avoiding alcohol and other medications that affect the liver may be recommended as well.
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Hepatitis C Clearance In Women
The rate of clearance of hepatitis C in women who are biologically female can also be different. It is believed that 20% of all hepatitis C infections clear spontaneously without treatment. The rates of clearance, however, differ dramatically between sexes.
Ongoing surveillance data from the United States suggests that 37% of women with acute HCV will experience clearance compared to only 11% of men. The female hormone estrogen is believed to play a central role in this phenomenon.
A 2017 study published in Liver International reported that estrogen directly interferes with the virusâs ability to replicate, mainly in the latter stages of its life cycle when the virus is making âcopiesâ of itself. Without the means to replicate aggressively, the virus is more likely to be eradicated by the immune system.
Studies suggest that estrogen, which persists at higher levels in premenopausal women than men, is able to inhibit HCV replication by as much as 67%. Progesterone and testosterone appear to have no effect on HCV replication.
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Treatment And Medication For Hepatitis C
If you have acute hepatitis C, there is no recommended treatment. If your hepatitis C turns into a chronic hepatitis C infection, there are several medications available.
Interferon, peginterferon, and ribavirin used to be the main treatments for hepatitis C. They can have side effects like fatigue, flu-like symptoms, anemia, skin rash, mild anxiety, depression, nausea, and diarrhea.
Now youâre more likely to get one of these medications:
Find out more on treatment options for hepatitis C.
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How Does Viral Hepatitis Affect Pregnancy
Hepatitis B and C can cause problems during pregnancy and can be passed to your baby. The risk of passing the virus to your baby is higher with hepatitis B than C.
Research shows that pregnant women with hepatitis B or C may have a higher risk for certain pregnancy complications:2
- Gestational diabetes
- Low-birth-weight baby
- Premature birth . Premature birth is the leading cause of infant death and raises the risk of health and developmental problems at birth and later in life.
Talk to your doctor if you think you may be pregnant or plan to become pregnant. Some antiviral medicines that treat hepatitis C, such as ribavirin, can cause serious birth defects if taken during pregnancy.
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Who Gets Viral Hepatitis
Viral hepatitis is common in the United States and affects women and men. Hepatitis B and C are more common than hepatitis A.
- In 2015, hepatitis A affected an estimated 2,500 Americans.6 The percentage of people with hepatitis A has gone down by 95% since the hepatitis A vaccine became available in 1995.
Chronic hepatitis B may affect more than 1 million Americans.6 Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have the highest rates of hepatitis B infection. About 50% of the people living with Hepatitis B are Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.7
Within this high-risk group, hepatitis B is usually passed from a mother to her baby during pregnancy. Babies born with hepatitis B are likely to have it their entire lives and are at higher risk of liver damage and liver cancer.
- Hepatitis C is the most common type of viral hepatitis infection in the United States. An estimated 3.5 million Americans have chronic hepatitis C.6 The CDC recommends that everyone born between 1945 and 1965 get tested at least once for hepatitis C because it is so common in this age group.8
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Who Is More Likely To Get Hepatitis C
People more likely to get hepatitis C are those who
- have injected drugs
- had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992
- have hemophilia and received clotting factor before 1987
- have been on kidney dialysis
- have been in contact with blood or infected needles at work
- have had tattoos or body piercings
- have worked or lived in a prison
- were born to a mother with hepatitis C
- are infected with HIV
- have had more than one sex partner in the last 6 months or have a history of sexually transmitted disease
- are men who have or had sex with men
In the United States, injecting drugs is the most common way that people get hepatitis C.13
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Theres no denying it: The drugs remain pricey, and treating everyone infected with the virus would eat up a big chunk of the prison medical budget in some states. In Oklahoma, for example, there were 2,119 people with hepatitis C in 2021. At $24,000 per course of treatment, the medicine would cost the state $50.9 million. That year, Oklahomas entire correctional health care budget was $85.7 million.
In Maine, the state with the third smallest prison population in the country, the Department of Corrections needed the legislature to greenlight an infusion of $5.5 million when it had to expand its hepatitis C treatment program after settling a prisoner-led lawsuit.
Although funding is difficult to come by, it was very difficult for anybody to argue for a better use of money, said Ryan Thornell, the deputy commissioner of Maines department of corrections.
Further headway will depend on prison doctors, administrators, legislatures, and governors agreeing that its worth investing millions of dollars into hepatitis C treatment for incarcerated people, and looking for deals and appropriations to help make it happen.
These correctional facilities and their administrators they need to see value in the public health intervention, said Erin Fratto, a consultant who helps states craft hep C pricing deals. They need to see value in the incarcerated individuals lives.
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How Is Hepatitis C Transmitted
Because HCV is primarily spread through contact with infected blood, people who inject drugs are at increased risk for HCV infection. HCV can also be transmitted from an infected mother to child at the time of birth, from unregulated tattoos or body piercings, and from sharing personal items that may be contaminated with infected blood, even in amounts too small to see. Much less often, HCV transmission occurs through sexual contact with an HCV-infected partner, especially among people with multiple sex partners and men who have sex with men. Currently in the United States, health care related transmission of HCV is rare, but people can become infected from accidental needle sticks and from breaches in infection control practices in health care facilities.
Who Should Get The Hepatitis A Vaccine
The hepatitis A vaccine is given in two doses, six to 18 months apart. Two doses are needed for lasting protection.
The vaccine is recommended for:27
- All children, starting at 1 year
- Men who have sex with men
- People who travel or work in a part of the world where hepatitis A is common, such as certain parts of Central or South America, Asia, Africa, and eastern Europe. See the CDCs Travelers Health Information.
- People who use illegal drugs
- People who are treated with clotting factor concentrates, such as people with hemophilia
- People with chronic liver disease
- People who work with hepatitis A in a laboratory or with hepatitis Ainfected primates
- Members of households planning to adopt a child, or care for a newly arriving adopted child, from a country where hepatitis A is common. See the CDCs Travelers Health information page for international adoptions.
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Effective Treatments Are Available For Hepatitis C
New medication to treat for HCV have been approved in recent years. These treatments are much better than the previously available treatment because they have few side effects and do not need to be injected. There are several direct-acting antiviral HCV treatments that cure more than 95% of people who take them in 8 to 12 weeks. HCV treatment dramatically reduces deaths among people with HCV infection, and people who are cured of HCV are much less likely to develop cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Take Action! CDCs National Prevention Information Network Service Locator helps consumers locate hepatitis B and hepatitis C prevention, care, and treatment services.