Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that leads to infection and inflammation of the liver. Roughly 3.2 million people in the United States, and 130 million to 150 million people worldwide, are living with Hepatitis C (often known as the shorthand “Hep C”), but as it is often asymptomatic, many people are unaware they are carrying the disease. The lack of symptoms may lead to a delayed diagnosis, making the disease easier to spread and harder to treat.
The incubation period of Hepatitis C may take anywhere from two weeks to six months. Patients who do experience symptoms may notice jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and/or eyes), noticeably darkened urine, stomach pain, nausea, loss of appetite, fever, greyish colored feces, and/or fatigue. The virus is spread through blood and other bodily fluids. Sex with an infected partner, accidental needle sticks, and deliberate sharing of needles all put a person at risk for contracting Hep C. An infected woman giving birth may pass the virus on to her newborn. Hepatitis C is detected with a two-step blood test.
Patients with untreated Hepatitis C are at risk for developing a number of potential complications. Cirrhosis, a form of scarring of the liver, is common and Hepatitis C may place a patient at an increased risk of developing liver cancer. Cirrhosis is one of the primary reasons for liver transplants. Between 350,000 and 500,000 people worldwide die every year from complications of Hepatitis C. Treatments for Hep C are continuously being worked on and improved. There is currently a once-daily pill available that has a high rate of success in treating Hep C within 8-12 weeks. The most common side effects are quite mild, but unfortunately this medication is still very expensive. There are more affordable forms of treatment, however these tend to have more severe side effects. Discussion with your doctor will prove valuable in determining the best for a treatment in individual cases.
At this time, there is no vaccine for Hepatitis C. However, using safe behaviors may significantly decrease your odds of contracting the disease. Always use a condom during sexual activities, do not engage in recreational use of intravenous drugs, do not share personal items such as razors, and do thorough research before receiving piercings, tattoos, or manicures. Equipment used for these procedures, if not cleaned and sterilized properly, may have another person’s blood on it and may spread Hep C.