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Slideshow: What You Need to Know About Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C: What Is It?

Hepatitis C is an inflammation of your liver that is caused by a virus. About 3.2 million Americans have it, and 17,000 or so others get infected each year. If left untreated, it can turn into lasting liver disease.

How You Get Hepatitis C

The most common way to get hepatitis C is by sharing needles or other equipment used to inject illegal drugs. Health care workers can also get it if they're accidentally stuck with a needle used on an infected patient. It's rare, but you can get it at a tattoo parlor if its equipment isn't clean. You can't get it by kissing, hugging, or sharing eating utensils.

Who Gets Hepatitis C

Baby boomers are most likely to have the infection, but we're not exactly sure why. They could have become infected before blood screening methods changed in 1992. Or maybe they got it from injecting drugs, even if only once. That's why the CDC recommends that people born between 1945 and 1965 get tested to see if they have hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C Symptoms

Most people who have hepatitis C won't have any symptoms at all. People who do have symptoms might have fever, nausea, vomiting, or stomach pain. They might be tired and not feel hungry. Because those symptoms can be the same for a lot of illnesses, see your doctor if you don't feel well.

Long-Term Risks of Hepatitis C

It's important to treat hepatitis C. If it goes untreated for many years, you can get serious liver damage. It can lead to liver cancer, liver failure, or cirrhosis (scarring of the liver).

Diagnosing Hepatitis C

Your doctor can tell if you have hepatitis C with a simple blood test. If the screening is positive, your doctor will likely do other tests to confirm you have hepatitis C, so you can start treatment right away.

Treating Hepatitis C

Common treatment for hepatitis C is a combination of interferon (a shot) and ribavirin (a pill), and either the anti-virus drug Victrelis or Incivek.

But treatment is changing. Doctors are starting to prescribe one of two new antiviral drugs (Olysio or Sovaldi) along with interferon and ribavirin. This combo has a higher cure rate, shorter treatment, and fewer side effects. More treatments on the horizon will have even fewer side effects.

Taking Care of Yourself

There are no special foods for people with hepatitis C, but it's always smart to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Avoid alcohol, which can make your liver worse.

Get vaccines for hepatitis A and B, pneumonia, and the flu. Talk to your doctor before taking any prescription or non-prescription medicine, especially Tylenol (acetaminophen).

Manage Hepatitis C

Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on January 28, 2014

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