Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by an infection with the hepatitis C virus. The liver becomes inflamed and swollen and stops working as it should. Hepatitis C is a serious disease because the liver is needed to remove toxins that build up in the blood. Hepatitis C can destroy the liver and cause cirrhosis and death. It is the main cause of liver transplants in the world.
After being infected with the hepatitis C virus, 55%-85% of people will develop a chronic, long-term, infection. Once chronic hepatitis C infection develops, 70% of people develop chronic liver disease -- but less than 5% of these people die from the infection.
Many people with hepatitis go undiagnosed, because the disease is mistaken for the flu or because there are no symptoms at all. The most common symptoms of hepatitis are:
Loss of appetite
Muscle or joint aches
Nausea and vomiting
Less common symptoms include:
Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
Altered mental state, stupor, or coma
Close to 2% of Americans have been infected with the hepatitis C virus, with 2.7 million having a chronic infection. The hepatitis C virus is one of the most common causes of long-lasting liver disease in the U.S.
There are several ways to get infected with hepatitis C, including:
Sharing needles for injection drug use
Accidentally getting pricked by a needle contaminated by infected blood; this sometimes happens to medical workers.
Being born to a mother with hepatitis C infection
Getting a blood transfusion from someone with hepatitis C infection. Before 1992, blood could not be tested for hepatitis C. Since 1992, all blood donated in the U.S. gets tested for the virus. If you had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before June 1992, ask your health care provider about being tested for hepatitis C.
Kidney dialysis equipment that is not properly sterilized
Sharing items like razors and toothbrushes because of the likelihood of blood traces
Getting a tattoo or body piercing with dirty tools or ink
Rarely can a person get hepatitis C from having unprotected sex with an infected person. This is more likely to happen if the infected person also has another sexually transmitted disease.
You cannot get hepatitis C from hugging or shaking hands with an infected person.