Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver and is the most common, long-lasting bloodborne infection in the United States. The hepatitis C virus was first discovered in 1989.
It is often asymptomatic, but can display symptoms that mimic the flu. The first six months of this infection is known as acute hepatitis C.
It is possible to clear a hepatitis C infection and stop it from progressing if it is discovered early on.
After six months of infection, hepatitis C progresses to the chronic stage (known as chronic hepatitis C) and becomes a serious disease that can lead to liver failure, liver cancer and death. The CDC estimates that 2.7 million Americans have chronic hepatitis C.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis C?
Acute hepatitis C does not usually show symptoms. As a result, most people with the disease are not be aware of it.
When acute hepatitis C symptoms do appear, they are usually flu-like: Fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Other symptoms of hepatitis C include jaundice, joint pain, dark urine and/or gray-colored stool.
With chronic hepatitis C infections, symptoms often do not arise for many years– often not until serious liver damage has already occurred.
Chronic hepatitis C can be very serious and may result in symptoms like abdominal pain, excessive bleeding, joint pain, weight loss and other signs of poor liver function.
How is hepatitis C transmitted?
Hepatitis C is transmitted when an infected person’s blood enters the body of an uninfected person. This happens mainly through sharing of needles or other drug injection equipment, accidental needle sticks (in healthcare setting, for instance) and by being born to a mother with hepatitis C.
It is also possible to contract hepatitis C through unprotected sexual intercourse, especially for those that are HIV positive.
Hepatitis C cannot be transmitted through mosquito bites. There are no records of known hepatitis C transmissions through mosquito bites worldwide.
How hepatitis C testing works
The Hepatitis C Enzyme Immunoassay (EIA) test is a blood test that searches for antibodies to the virus that causes hepatitis C. Our FDA-approved Hepatitis C test is highly sensitive and detects antibodies within 8-9 weeks of the initial infection.
When you contract hepatitis C, your body develops antibodies to fight off the virus. Our test looks for the presence of these antibodies in your system. Our hepatitis C test is simple. All it takes is a few minutes and a quick blood draw.
Your results will be available within 1-2 business days. If your results come back positive, our Care Advisors will put you in touch with one of our doctors who will advise you on your treatment options.
Is hepatitis C treatable?
Hepatitis C is treatable if it is diagnosed at an acute stage . Acute hepatitis C infections will sometimes go away on their own after a short period.
If diagnosed at a chronic stage, hepatitis C infections may require antiviral medications to prevent more damaging effects from the virus.
Effects of untreated hepatitis C
Since hepatitis C infections do not always display symptoms, the only way to really know if you have been infected is to get tested.
Untreated chronic hepatitis C is very dangerous. It can lead to a host of illnesses, including liver failure, cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer or even death. Also unlike hepatitis A & B, there is no vaccine to prevent against contracting the hepatitis C virus.
Is hepatitis C preventable?
To help prevent contracting hepatitis C, use a condom or dental dam every time you engage in sexual activity. Do not share needles, razor blades or toothbrushes with anyone who is infected with hepatitis C.
People who are at higher risk for contracting hepatitis C include:
- Intravenous drug users
- Individuals born between 1945-1965
- People with multiple sexual partners
- People with other STDs
- People who get tattoos or piercings with non-sterile equipments.
- Individuals who received blood transfusions before 1992
Most common hepatitis C symptoms
- No symptoms
- Everything feels normal
Less common hepatitis C symptoms
- Flu-like symptoms
- Stomach pain
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
- Nausea or vomiting
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Dark colored urine
Is there a way to know if I have hepatitis C?
It is possible to have hepatitis C and not know it. Approximately 80 percent of individuals with hepatitis C infections do not experience any symptoms.
According to the CDC, an estimated 3.2 million people in the United States have chronic (long-term) hepatitis C infections.
Getting tested for hepatitis C and other STDs is often the only way to know if you are infected. Many people living unknowingly with hepatitis C only find out when they are getting routine bloodwork or are donating blood.
Acute hepatitis C symptoms often feel like the flu
People with acute hepatitis C infections may experience flu-like symptoms within 2 weeks to 6 months after the initial infection. Symptoms of acute hepatitis C include:
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea, vomiting
- Stomach ache
- Joint and muscle pain
- Darkening of urine
- Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
- Clay-colored bowel movements
Chronic hepatitis C
Being diagnosed with a chronic or long-term hepatitis C infection typically means you have had hepatitis C for longer than six months.
Most people with chronic hepatitis C are able to live symptom-free for up to 20 or 30 years. According to the CDC, over time 75-85 individuals out of 100 will develop a chronic infection.
Out of the same 100, 60-70 individuals with hepatitis C will develop chronic liver disease; 5-20 will develop cirrhosis over a 20-30 span; and 1-5 will die from the consequences of a chronic infection like cirrhosis or liver cancer.
How is hepatitis C transmitted?
The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is commonly spread through contact with the blood of an infected person.
The spread of hepatitis C can result from sharing needles, reusing razors or other sharp objects used by a hepatitis C positive person.
Healthcare workers who handle contaminated needles or blood may also contract the virus. In addition, infants who are born to mothers with a hepatitis C infection may contract the virus at birth.
Although less common, hepatitis C can also be transmitted via sexual contact with a person infected by the hepatitis C virus.
Can I get hepatitis C through sexual contact?
Yes, the CDC estimates the risk of contracting hepatitis C through sexual contact is low, although your chances increase if you engage in sex with multiple partners, have tested positive for other STDs, engage in rough sex or if you are HIV-positive.
Aside from blood, body fluids that can contain hepatitis C include semen and vaginal secretions.
Can I unknowingly transmit hepatitis C?
Yes, it is very possible to unknowingly transmit hepatitis C. Many people infected with hepatitis C are not aware of their condition because the virus does not always display symptoms. As a result, an individual with hepatitis C may inadvertently transmit the virus to others.
Can hepatitis C virus survive outside the body?
Yes, hepatitis C virus can survive outside the body at normal room temperatures, on environmental surfaces, for a minimum of 16 hours, however, the virus cannot last longer than 4 days outside the body.
What ways are hepatitis C not spread or transmitted?
Hepatitis C is not spread or transmitted through kissing, holding hands, coughing, sneezing, sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding or hugging. It is also not transmitted through food or water.
Do mosquito bites spread hepatitis C?
No, there are no known cases of hepatitis C being transmitted via mosquitoes or other insect bites.
When mosquitoes bite, they send their saliva into the skin, which means mosquitoes spread diseases mainly through saliva. Since hepatitis C is a bloodborne disease, it cannot be spread through mosquito bites.
Can a pregnant mother pass hepatitis C to her baby?
Yes, the chance of a pregnant mother transmitting hepatitis C to her baby is possible. The CDC estimates that approximately 1 in 20 babies born to mothers with hepatitis C will contract the virus. This risk becomes greater if the mother is also HIV-positive.
What happens if hepatitis C is left untreated?
Acute (new) hepatitis C infections become chronic or long-term when your body fails to eliminate the virus. About 75-80 percent of acute Hepatitis C patients will develop chronic (lifelong) infections.
If the disease is left untreated, it could lead to serious liver problems like liver cancer, cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and complete liver failure.
People with cirrhosis could develop symptoms like yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), weight loss, vomiting, nausea, swollen stomach, fatigue and total loss of liver function.
Is hepatitis C preventable?
You can prevent contracting hepatitis C virus by taking the following simple steps:
- Do not share toiletries like razors or toothbrushes with anyone else
- Make sure all tattoo and piercing equipment has been properly sterilized
- Use condoms during sexual contact
- Always wear protective equipment such as gloves, masks and gowns when coming into contact with blood
- Stay away from intravenous drug use or sterilize all needles or drug equipment before use
HIV and hepatitis C
HIV breaks down your body’s defense mechanisms, thereby making you more susceptible to contracting hepatitis C if exposed to it.
HIV and hepatitis C co-infection is very common among intravenous drug users: Between 50 and 90 percent of people infected with HIV who use intravenous drugs are also infected with the hepatitis C virus.
What is the treatment for hepatitis C?
Treatment for hepatitis C differs depending on whether it is an acute (new) or chronic (long-term) infection.
Acute hepatitis C treatment
There are no medications available to treat new or acute Hepatitis C infections. Usually, doctors will recommend rest, adequate nutrition and fluid intake. Acute hepatitis C infections sometimes will go away on their own.
Chronic hepatitis C treatment
People with chronic or long-term hepatitis C infections need regular monitoring by doctors for signs of liver damage or disease, and evaluated for treatment.
The treatment may involve the use of antiviral medications to manage the virus and enhance liver function. Not everyone that test positive for chronic hepatitis C needs or will receive full benefits from medical treatments.
Note that other major health issues can be confused with hepatitis C . This makes it important to confirm the presence of chronic hepatitis C by doing a follow-up test.
The test will confirm that you have had hepatitis C antibodies in your blood for longer than 6 months.
Hepatitis C antiviral medications
Antiviral medications are used to treat and manage chronic (long term) Hepatitis C infections. The medications are used over time and in a routine recommended by a physician.
With proper medications, an infected person can keep their disease under control. The medications can have serious side effects and may need to be suspended or stopped in certain situations.
Liver transplants can help hepatitis C patients
Individuals living with chronic hepatitis C that has resulted in serious liver disease or those who are on the verge of liver failure may be candidates for liver transplants; having their damaged liver replaced surgically with a transplanted liver.
Is there a way to recover from hepatitis C?
In approximately 15-25 percent of acute hepatitis C cases, individuals with the virus are able to clear it on their own without treatment. These infections, once cleared, will not become chronic hepatitis C later.
I have hepatitis C; what can I do to help take care of my liver?
Learning you have hepatitis C can be devastating news, but there are steps you can take to help take care of your liver’s health.
- Get regular liver health check-ups from experienced medical professionals
- Avoid drinking alcohol as it can cause additional liver damage
- Check with your doctor before taking medications, prescriptions or supplements as some, like acetaminophen, can harm the liver
- If your liver is damaged, get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B to avoid contracting these infections as well