Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver. It's caused by the hepatitis C virus. About 3.2 million people in the U.S. have hepatitis C. But because the virus causes so few symptoms, most of them don't know they have the disease.
There are many types of hepatitis C virus. The most common in the U.S. is type 1. No type is more serious than any other, but they respond differently to treatment.
Hepatitis C is a sneaky virus. About 80% of infected people don't have any symptoms of the virus, and their liver shows only a little damage. Many of these people are diagnosed with hepatitis C after showing abnormal liver enzymes on routine blood tests. Other people -- about 5% to 20% -- develop cirrhosis after having the hepatitis C infection for 20 or 30 years. This is when the normal functioning liver is replaced by scar tissue. A smaller number of people develop liver cancer after infection...
You can get a blood test to see if you have the hepatitis C virus.
Are There Any Long-Term Effects of Hepatitis C?
Yes. In people who have hepatitis C, 75% to 85% may develop a long-term infection. Hepatitis C is one of the top reasons that people need a liver transplant.
What's the Treatment for Hepatitis C?
If you have hepatitis C and show signs of liver damage, your doctor will suggest medication.
Treatment for hepatitis C keeps changing quickly. Until recently, most people with hepatitis C had to take a blend of shots and pills that often came with some unpleasant side effects. The standard treatment was usually shots of interferon plus other drugs -- usually ribavirin and either Incivek (telaprevir) or Victrelis (boceprevir).
But the newer drugs Olysio (simeprevir) and Solvadi (sofosbuvir) cure more people in less time with fewer and milder side effects. The drugs are taken together with interferon and ribavirin. Doctors hope that soon more people will be able to stop taking interferon, the treatment that causes so many side effects.
Side Effects of Hepatitis C Treatment
Side effects of treatment for hepatitis C include:
Low blood counts
Also, the FDA has said it has received reports of a serious skin rash from combination treatment with Incivek, which has led to several deaths.
Can You Prevent Hepatitis C Infection?
There is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. To avoiding getting the virus:
News release, FDA.
The Cleveland Clinic Department of Gastroenterology.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: "Hepatitis C Treatment Side Effects Management Chart."
UptoDate: "Patient Information: "Hepatitis C (Beyond the Basics)."