Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver that occurs when tissues of the body are infected or injured and may damage your liver. The most common form of Hepatitis is viral. It may be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term) depending on the type – A, B, C, D or E. In the United States, types A, B, and C are most common. Hepatitis A and E are usually spread through food or water contaminated through an infected person’s stool. Hepatitis B, C and D are spread through direct contact with the blood of an infected person. Hepatitis B and D may also be spread through bodily fluid contact through unprotected sex or sharing drug needles.
Hepatitis C is caused by the HCV virus and can also be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term). Acute Hepatitis C can last up to 6 months. If your body is able to fight off the infection, the virus will go away on its own. However, most acute infection leads to chronic infection. Chronic Hepatitis C is a long-lasting infection, and if left untreated, it can last for a lifetime and cause serious health problems such as scarring of the liver, liver cancer, or even death.
Hepatitis C spreads through contact with the blood of an HCV+ individual. Examples of potential spread include:
- sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs; this is the most common method of spread
- accidental needle sticks from a needle used on an HCV+ individual; this is most likely in healthcare settings
- receiving tattoos or piercings with unsterilized tools or inks that were used on an HCV+ individual
- direct contact with the blood or open sores of an HCV+ individual
- having unprotected sex with an HCV+ individual
HIV+ individuals are more likely to get Hepatitis C, as are those with STI’s or those who have had more than one sexual partner in the last 6 months. If you are at high risk for HCV, it is imperative you get tested.
While most people with Hepatitis C have no symptoms, people with acute infection do typically have symptoms within 1-3 months from exposure. Chronic Hepatitis C does not usually present symptoms until it causes complications. This can happen decades after infection. Because of this, HCV screenings are important even if no symptoms are present.
Symptoms of Hepatitis C may include:
- Dark yellow urine
- Gray- or clay-colored stools
- Joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Abdominal pain
Treatment for Hepatitis C includes antiviral medications. The treatment goal is to clear the virus from the body and to show no virus detected in the body at least 12 weeks after treatment completion. There have been huge advancements in treatment over the last few years, with new medications causing fewer side effects and shorter treatment times (some as short as 8 weeks!).