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Hepatitis C is an infection caused by the Hepatitis C virus (HCV), which leads to inflammation of the liver. There are two different types: acute or chronic. Acute hepatitis C refers to infection lasting 6 months or less. Most cases of acute hepatitis C progress to the chronic form, but some patients are able to clear the infection without treatment. Chronic hepatitis C has a longer duration and can be a lifelong illness. If left untreated, it can lead to cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver failure, or liver cancer.
Hepatitis C is a contagious disease and is spread through contact with infected blood or body fluids. This can occur by sharing needles with an infected person when injecting drugs, receiving a tattoo or piercing with unsterilized equipment used on an infected person, or sharing personal care items (e.g. razors, toothbrushes, etc.) with an infected person. Less commonly, the disease can be spread through sexual contact and childbirth. Transmission cannot occur by coughing, sneezing, kissing, or shaking hands.
When a person is initially infected, there are usually no symptoms. As a result, most patients do not realize that they have the disease. When symptoms do develop and become noticeable, they are often a sign of advanced liver disease. Those symptoms can include:
- Dark yellow urine
- Abdominal pain
- Jaundice (yellow color in eyes and skin)
- Loss of appetite
Diagnosis and Testing
Doctors can diagnose hepatitis C using specific blood tests that look for any sign of the virus in the blood. Liver function tests may also be done to see how well the liver is functioning and if it has sustained any damage.
Treatment often involves taking combinations of different antiviral medications that help fight the hepatitis C virus. These drugs come in either oral or injectable forms. Treatment can lead to cure of the disease and result in complete removal of hepatitis C virus from the blood.
There is no vaccination currently available for Hepatitis C; however, development of a vaccination is currently underway.
There are many resources and organizations available that can help provide support, advocacy and information:
American Liver Foundation
Hepatitis Foundation International
Hepatitis C Association
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HCV/index.htm. Accessed May 13, 2015.National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/hepatitis/hepatitisC/Pages/Default.aspx. Accessed May 13, 2015.
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