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Chronic Hepatitis C

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Chronic hepatitis C is a long-lasting liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus. During the first 6 months of the infection, it's called acute hepatitis. For most people with acute hepatitis C -- up to 80% -- their illness moves on to a chronic, lasting hepatitis C infection. 

Chronic Hepatitis C Risk Factors

Most people are infected with the hepatitis C virus when the blood of an infected person gets into their body. This often happens when people share needles to use drugs, are stuck by needles at work in a hospital or doctor's office, or are born to a mother who has hepatitis C.

You can also get infected by having sex with someone who has the virus. Your chances go up if you have an STD, an HIV infection, several sex partners, or have rough sex.

You can't get hepatitis C by touching, kissing, coughing, sneezing, sharing utensils, or breastfeeding.

The CDC recommends you get tested for hepatitis C if:

  • You received blood from a donor who later found out they had hepatitis C.
  • 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.

Since July 1992, all blood and organ donations in the U.S. are tested for the hepatitis C virus. According to the CDC, the number of hepatitis C infections dropped by 90%, partially as a result of those screening tests.

 

Chronic Hepatitis C Symptoms

Many people who get hepatitis C don't have symptoms for years. Because of that, they don't find out they have the virus until they take a blood test for some other reason. If you have chronic hepatitis C, your symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Upset stomach
  • Drop in appetite
  • Joint and muscle pain

You may also have symptoms related to liver cirrhosis, such as:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Dark yellow urine
  • Bleeding or bruising easily

You can find out if you have a hepatitis C infection with blood tests. If the test shows you have it, you'll likely have other blood tests to check your liver's health. You may also need a liver biopsy and imaging tests.

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