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Hepatitis C

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.

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What Are the Symptoms of Hepatitis C?

Symptoms of hepatitis C include:

  • Jaundice (a condition that causes yellow eyes and skin, as well as dark urine)
  • Stomach pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue


How Do You Get Hepatitis C?

You get the hepatitis C virus from the blood or body fluids of an infected person.

It can be spread by:

  • Sharing drugs and needles
  • Having sex, especially if you have an STD, an HIV infection, several sex partners, or have rough sex.
  • Being stuck by infected needles
  • Through birth from a mother to a child

Hepatitis C is not spread through food, water, or by casual contact.

Who Is at Risk for Hepatitis C?

 The CDC recommends you get tested for hepatitis C if:

  • You received blood from a donor who had the disease.
  • You have ever injected drugs.
  • You received a blood transfusion or an organ transplant before July 1992.
  • You received a blood product used to treat clotting problems before 1987.
  • You were born between 1945 and 1965.
  • You have had long-term kidney dialysis.
  • You have HIV.
  • You were born to a mother with hepatitis C.


How Is Hepatitis C Diagnosed?

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:

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Low blood counts
  • Trouble thinking
  • Nervousness
  • Depression

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:

  • Use a latex condom every time you have sex.
  • Don't share personal items like razors.
  • Be careful if you get a tattoo or body piercing. The equipment may have someone else's blood on it.
  • To avoid spreading the virus, don't donate blood or tissue if you are infected.


WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on July 09, 2014

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