Hepatitis C (HCV) is the most common blood-borne disease in the United States. It attacks the largest organ in your body--the liver. It can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. It is the leading cause of liver transplants in the United States.
May is Hepatitis Awareness Month...the time of year when the medical professionals and advocacy groups dedicate even more time, energy and resources to educating the public about the forms of this pervasive disease that attacks the liver and puts people's health at risk. When it comes to preventing the spread of hepatitis, and protecting yourself, education and knowledge are two powerful tools.
With that in mind, here are 5 things you need to know about hepatitis C:
- What is hepatitis C? The first thing you need to know about hepatitis C is that it is a contagious disease that attacks the liver. Acute hepatitis C is a short-term illness that typically occurs within six months of being exposed to the virus. Acute hepatitis can last a few weeks or turn into chronic hepatitis C, which remains in the infected person's body indefinitely and can lead to lifelong problems including scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and liver cancer.
- How is hepatitis C spread? Hepatitis C (HCV) is most commonly spread through exposure to infected blood. Hepatitis C can enter your bloodstream when you share needles, razors, toothbrushes or other personal hygiene items with someone who is infected with the HCV virus. It's also important to note how hepatitis C is not spread. HCV is not spread by sharing utensils, sharing food or water, holding hands, hugging, kissing, breastfeeding or by being near someone who coughs or sneezes and is infected with the disease.
- How can the spread of hepatitis C be prevented? The first step in preventing the spread of hepatitis C is to know whether or not you and your loved ones have it. In the past, only people in high-risk groups were routinely screened for hepatitis C. Today, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone born between 1945 and 1965 be tested. Learn more about the tests available to diagnose HCV. Beyond testing, it's important for people not to share personal hygiene items, use needle precautions, remember to practice safer sex, and to stay away from intravenous drugs. Here is an article on how you can help prevent the spread of viral hepatitis.
- What are the symptoms of hepatitis C? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 70 to 80 percent of people who have acute hepatitis C show no symptoms. Some people, however, have mild or severe symptoms soon after being infected. These symptoms could include: fevers, severe fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, joint pain, jaundice, and more. If symptoms occur, they typically appear between six and seven weeks from the time of exposure. However, symptoms could appear as quickly as two weeks after exposure, or as long as six months after exposure.
- What treatments are available for hepatitis C? In about 25 percent of people, acute hepatitis C has been known to go away on its own. If it does not go away on its own, acute hepatitis C can be treated with a medication treatment plan from your doctor. And the good news is that medications available for HCV have come quite a long way in the past several years as well. However, the medicine does not necessarily prevent the virus from advancing to chronic hepatitis C. Chronic hepatitis C can be treated with a combination of antivirus medicines, which fight the disease and prevent more serious problems. Regular blood tests are also recommended to ensure proper liver function and the absence of more serious diseases.
As part of Hepatitis Awareness Month, learn how you can help educate friends and loved ones around you with these resources from the CDC. In addition, if you're looking for general information about Hepatitis, including treatment options and support, the following resources may be helpful.