What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus
(HCV). The hepatitis C virus causes inflammation of the liver. If
the inflammation is not reversed, it becomes chronic (ongoing, long
term) and can cause chronic liver disease, which can be serious or
even fatal. HCV infection sometimes results in an acute illness,
but most often, it does become a chronic condition that can lead to
cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. In fact, at least 75% of
people infected with hepatitis C develop chronic hepatitis C.
What are Symptoms?
Although hepatitis C does severe damage the liver, 80% of people
with the disease have no signs or symptoms. In those who do,
symptoms may not appear for 10-20 years. Even then, the symptoms
usually come and go and are mild and vague. Unfortunately, by the
time symptoms appear, the damage may be very serious. Some infected
people have flu-like symptoms during the early acute phase of the
infection. These symptoms typically develop 5-12 weeks after
exposure to HCV. The following are signs and symptoms of chronic
hepatitis C infection.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Dark-colored urine
- Pale-colored stool
- Pain over the liver (on the right side of the abdomen, just
under the rib cage)
- Jaundice- A condition in which the skin and the whites of the
eyes turn yellow
How is hepatitis C transmitted?
The hepatitis C virus is spread through contact with infected
blood. Common routes of infection include sharing needles for drug
injection, blood transfusions before 1992, sexual activity, needle
stick accidents among healthcare workers, and any other
blood-to-blood contact. Also, indirect sources contaminated with
infected blood, such as razors, are capable of carrying and
transmitting the virus.
The Hepatitis C Virus Antibody test is a blood test that looks for
antibodies of the virus that causes hepatitis C. This test cannot
tell the difference between an acute or chronic infection. The
earliest this test should be taken is 6 weeks after a possible
Although there is no cure for the virus, there are several
treatment options. Treatment is not always necessary upon diagnosis
of hepatitis c. If you have only slight liver abnormalities, you
may not need treatment because your risk of future liver problems
is very low. If treatment is needed, there are a few antiviral
medications that your doctor may recommend. In severe cases, a
liver transplant may be an option.
What is the difference between acute hepatitis C and
chronic hepatitis C?
Acute hepatitis C virus infection is a short-term illness that
occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the
hepatitis C virus. For most people acute infection does lead to
chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis C virus infection is a
long-term illness that occurs when the hepatitis C virus remains in
a person's body. Chronic infection can last a lifetime and lead to
serious liver problems, including cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Is there a vaccine for hepatitis C?
No. There is not a vaccine for hepatitis C at this time.
Can the vaccine for hepatitis A and/or hepatitis B
prevent hepatitis C infection?
No. Neither vaccine will prevent hepatitis C infection if
How often does acute hepatitis C become
Approximately 90% of people who become infected with the hepatitis
C virus develop chronic infection.