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What Is Hepatitis C?

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This infection of the liver is caused by the hepatitis C virus. About 3.2 million people in the U.S. have the disease. But it causes few symptoms, so most of them don't know.

There are many forms of the hepatitis C virus. The most common in the U.S. is type 1. None is more serious than any other, but they respond differently to treatment.

Recommended Related to Hepatitis

Hepatitis A Symptoms

Hepatitis A can make you feel like you have the flu. It's caused by a virus that you can catch if you come in close contact with someone who has it. The disease spreads easily if you live with other people, and it's common among young children. You may also get hep A if you eat or drink something that's got the virus in it. You can cut down on your risk of getting sick if you wash your hands before meals.

Read the Hepatitis A Symptoms article > >

What Are the Symptoms?

Many people with Hepatitis have no symptoms. But you could notice these:

How Do You Get It?

The virus spreads through the blood or body fluids of an infected person.

You can catch it from:

  • Sharing drugs and needles
  • Having sex, especially if you have an STD, an HIV infection, several partners, or have rough sex
  • Being stuck by infected needles
  • Birth -- a mother can pass it to a child

Hepatitis C isn’t spread through food, water, or by casual contact.

Who Gets It?

The CDC recommends you get tested for the disease if you:

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

How Is It Diagnosed?

You can get a blood test to see if you have the hepatitis C virus.

Are There Any Long-Term Effects?

Yes. About 75% to 85% of people who have it develop a long-term infection called chronic hepatitis C. It can lead to conditions like liver cancer and cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver. This is one of the top reasons people get liver transplants.

How Is It Treated?

Hepatitis C treatments have changed a lot in recent years. The latest is a once-daily pill called Harvoni that cures the disease in most people in 8-12 weeks. It combines two drugs: sofosbuvir (Sovaldi) and ledipasvir. In clinical trials, the most common side effects were fatigue and headache. However, the medicine is expensive.

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