This infection of the liver is caused by the hepatitis C virus. About 3.9 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.
What Are the Symptoms?
Many people with hepatitis C have no symptoms. But you could notice these:
- Jaundice (a condition that causes yellow eyes and skin, as well as dark urine)
- Stomach pain
- Loss of appetite
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
- Have symptoms of liver disease
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. In August 2017, the FDA approved a daily combination pill of glecaprevir and pibrentasvir called Mavyret. This medication offers a shorter treatment cycle of 8 weeks for adult patients with all types of HCV who don’t have cirrhosis and who have not been previously treated. The length of treatment is longer for those who are in a different disease stage. The prescribed dosage for this medicine is 3 tablets daily.
Several other medications are available that are also taken as once-a-day medications. The once-daily pill combination of elbasvir and grazoprevir called Zepatier has been shown to have the ability to cure the disease in as many as 97% of those treated. It follows the success of another once-daily treatment called Harvoni that cures the disease in most people in 8-12 weeks. Harvoni combines two drugs: sofosbuvir and ledipasvir. In clinical trials, the most common side effects in both drugs were fatigue and headache.
Vosevi is a combination of sofosbuvir, velpatasvir and voxilaprevir that has been approved to treat adults with chronic HCV, either with no cirrhosis or with compensated cirrhosis who have already had certain treatments.
Other drugs include daclastasvir (Daklinza), ombitasvir-paritaprevir-dasabuvir- (Viekira Pak), ombitasvir-paritaprevir- (Technivie), and sofosbuvir-velpatasvir (Epclusa).
Instead, your doctor could recommend a combination of simeprevir (Olysio) or sofosbuvir (Sovaldi) with peginterferon, which you take by injection, and ribavirin, which comes as a liquid, tablet, or capsule.
Interferon and ribavirin used to be the main treatments for hepatitis C. They can have side effects like fatigue, flu-like symptoms, anemia, skin rash, mild anxiety, depression, nausea, and diarrhea.
Your treatment will depend on many things including what type of hepatitis C virus you have. In the U.S., the most common type is genotype 1, followed by genotypes 2 and 3. Genotypes 4,5, and 6 are very rare in the U.S. Your doctor will help you figure out what's right for you, based on your medical needs and insurance coverage.
What Are the Side Effects?
The most common effects of hepatitis C drugs depend on the particular medicine and may include:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Hair loss
- Low blood counts
- Trouble thinking
Can You Prevent Hepatitis C Infection?
There’s no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. To help avoid getting the virus:
- Use a latex condom every time you have sex.
- Don't share personal items like razors.
- Do not share needles, syringes or other equipment when injecting drugs.
- Be careful if you get a tattoo, body piercing or manicure. The equipment may have someone else's blood on it.