An estimated 2.4 million Americans are living with hepatitis C, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), yet many don’t even know
An estimated 2.4 million Americans are living with hepatitis C, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), yet many don’t even know it.
Spread through direct contact with blood from a person infected with the virus, hepatitis C causes the liver to become inflamed, and if left untreated, can cause serious health complications.
Symptoms of hepatitis C normally don’t occur until its advanced stages, making it critical to know the risk factors and to talk to your doctor about screening.
Virus Damages Liver
There are two types of hepatitis C.
Acute hepatitis C usually occurs within six months after someone is exposed to the virus. It can cause a short-term illness and may lead to a chronic infection.
Chronic hepatitis C can last a lifetime and usually causes serious health issues when left untreated, including liver damage, cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), cancer and death.
According to the CDC, 75 to 85 percent of people infected with hepatitis C will develop a chronic infection, while 10 to 20 percent will develop cirrhosis of the liver over time.
Of people with hepatitis C and cirrhosis, three in six will develop liver failure and one in six will develop liver cancer.
Baby Boomers at Greater Risk
While anyone can contract the virus, three in four people presently diagnosed with hepatitis C were born between 1945-65, according to the CDC.
It’s not entirely clear why baby boomers are infected with hepatitis C at such a high rate, but prior to 1992 the virus was commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants.
However, thanks to more rigorous blood screening methods that were put in place in 1992 to eliminate hepatitis C from the United States blood supply, transfusions are no longer a common mode of transmission.
Today, new hepatitis C infections usually occur by sharing needles or other equipment involved in drug use.
Those most at risk for contracting hepatitis C include:
|Read on: Health Matters: Hepatitis C: Know the Risks|