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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.

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Understanding Hepatitis -- Symptoms

It's possible you might have hepatitis and not realize it at first. Sometimes there aren't any symptoms. Or you might not get the right diagnosis because the disease shares some of the same signs as the flu. The most common symptoms of hepatitis are things like: Loss of appetite Fatigue Mild fever Muscle or joint aches Nausea and vomiting Pain in your belly Some people have other issues, such as: Dark urine Light-colored stools Jaundice (yellowing of the skin a...

Read the Understanding Hepatitis -- 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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