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Chronic Hepatitis C

Chronic hepatitis C is a persistent infection by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Acute hepatitis C refers to the initial illness from infection within six months of becoming infected. Most people (up to 80%) with acute hepatitis C move on to chronic hepatitis C infection. The general term hepatitis refers to an inflammation of the liver, which can also be caused by non-viral causes.

Chronic Hepatitis C Risk Factors

Typically, to become infected with hepatitis C virus, the blood of an infected person enters the body of someone who is not infected. The most common ways this occurs include sharing needles or other equipment used to inject drugs, needle-stick injuries in a health care setting, or getting infected as a result of birth from a mother with hepatitis C.

It is also possible, but less likely, to become infected with shared use of personal care items such as toothbrushes and razors. Infection is also possible through sexual contact with an infected person. The risk increases with the more sex partners you have, the presence of sexually transmitted disease, HIV infection, and rough sex.

Hepatitis C is not spread by casual contact, kissing, coughing, sneezing, sharing utensils, or breastfeeding.

Other people with greater risk of infection include:

  • People with tattoos or body piercing done with non-sterile equipment
  • People who received an organ transplant or blood transfusion before July 1992
  • People with clotting problems who took blood products prior to 1987
  • People receiving hemodialysis or who have a history of hemodialysis for kidney failure
  • People with HIV infection

Since July 1992, all blood and organ donations in the U.S. are screened for the hepatitis C virus. According to the CDC, the number of hepatitis C infections declined by 90% from 1994 to 2006, partially as a result of this. Since 2006, the number of new infections each year has remained relatively stable.


Chronic Hepatitis C Symptoms

Many people who get hepatitis C do not experience symptoms for a number of years. Consequently, many do not find out they have the virus until they take a blood test for other reasons. In people with chronic hepatitis C, symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Upset stomach and diminished appetite
  • Joint and muscle pain

Also, patients may experience symptoms related to liver cirrhosis, such as:

  • Jaundice, which is a yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • Urine of a dark yellow color
  • An increased tendency to bleed or bruise

The presence of hepatitis C infection can be determined by a blood test checking for the presence of antibodies to the virus. The CDC has recommended that everyone born from 1945 through 1965 get a blood test for hepatitis C . If this test is positive, another blood test to check for the presence of the virus is also done. Liver enzymes and other blood tests to evaluate liver function will often be used in monitoring disease. Additional testing may include liver biopsy and imaging.

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