Hepatitis C is a viral infection that affects the liver.
Hepatitis C is a viral infection that affects the liver. With about 3.5 million Americans living with hepatitis C, it is the leading cause of liver transplantation and liver cancer in the United States.
You cannot contract hepatitis C from casual contact, such as hugging, kissing, coughing or sneezing. You must come into contact with the blood of someone already infected.
Who is at risk for hepatitis C?
Since the virus is passed through contact with infected blood, it is often contracted through the use of needles. So, those who have used needles and other equipment, such as cotton, spoons and water, to inject illegal drugs are at risk.
Also, many Baby Boomers — those born between 1945 and 1965 — are at high risk. This is simply because medical practices weren’t as safe or sanitary in those years leading to a high volume of infection. Researchers believe that 1 of 30 people in that age demographic have hepatitis C.
You also may be at risk if you had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992. Before that time, donated blood and organs were not screened for the virus.
Other risk factors include:
• Having HIV
• Receiving a tattoo from an unlicensed or unregulated environment
• Having a mother who was hep C positive at the time of your birth
What are the symptoms?
Hepatitis C often stays silent for years with no signs or symptoms. However if symptoms do develop, they could include:
• Joint pain
• Stomach pain
• Itchy skin
• Sore muscles
How do I find out if I have hepatitis C?
The best way to know if you have hepatitis C is to be screened. This is done through a simple blood test.
What is the treatment?
Since it is a viral infection, hepatitis C can be treated with the use of antiviral medications. These can fight the infection and help prevent liver damage. Previously used medications had some serious side effects, including fatigue, insomnia and depression. But as medicine has advanced, you can receive medicines that have fewer side effects and can even cure more than than 95 percent of people.
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