Here’s what doctors currently know about this liver-damaging virus.
Hearing you have hepatitis C can come as a shock. You may not have any noticeable symptoms, and you might even be living a healthy life full of kale salads and regular visits to the yoga studio.
So what gives? Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by a virus. Typically, it’s spread from person to person through blood contact, such as through sharing needles or sex.
But you can also become infected if you received donated blood, blood products, or organs before 1992 (when better screening procedures were implemented), by working in healthcare and being injured by a needlestick, or by being born from a mother with hepatitis C.
Because advances in hepatitis C prevention and screening came after the 1980s, baby boomers are five times more likely to be infected with hepatitis C than other adults. Transmission of the virus was highest between 1960 and 1980, according to the CDC. That’s why experts recommend that all baby boomers get tested at least once—no matter what. (Find out more about the link between baby boomers and hepatitis C here.)
“Because the virus can last for decades without causing any symptoms, many boomers were likely infected a long time ago and have absolutely no idea they are carrying a potentially serious illness,” says Paul Knoepflmacher, MD.
Around 2.7 to 3.9 million people have chronic hepatitis C in the United States. Acute hepatitis C lasts about six months after exposure to the virus, and about 75 to 85 percent of acute hepatitis C infections progress to the chronic stage. A chronic hep C infection can last a lifetime and cause serious and permanent damage to the liver. This is why testing and treatment is so crucial.
Although hepatitis C can be serious, newer medications can cure the virus and prevent further complications, such as liver damage. If you have not yet been tested and fit into one or more of the associated risk factors, talk to your doctor so you can learn your status.
Dr. Knoepflmacher is a clinical instructor of medicine at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, where he also maintains a private practice.
00:00:00,065 --> 00:00:04,133
00:00:04,133 --> 00:00:08,110
Hepatitis C is a liver disease
that's caused by a virus.
00:00:08,110 --> 00:00:11,461
It's spread from person to
person through blood contacts.
00:00:11,461 --> 00:00:19,065
00:00:19,065 --> 00:00:23,055
There is no evidence that Hepatitis C
is spread through casual contact
00:00:23,055 --> 00:00:28,310
like kissing or hugging, sneezing or
coughing, or sharing food or utensils.
00:00:28,310 --> 00:00:31,410
Hepatitis C can be acute or chronic.
00:00:31,410 --> 00:00:35,200
In most people an acute infection leads
to a chronic infection that can last for
00:00:35,200 --> 00:00:36,430
a lifetime if not treated.
00:00:37,510 --> 00:00:41,070
Untreated Hepatitis C can
cause serious liver problems,
00:00:41,070 --> 00:00:45,980
such as scarring of the liver,
which we call cirrhosis, or liver cancer.
00:00:45,980 --> 00:00:48,710
In the past, treatment of
Hepatitis C was challenging for
00:00:48,710 --> 00:00:53,080
us because the medications took longer,
had more side effects, and
00:00:53,080 --> 00:00:55,870
were much less effective than
the new drugs available now.
00:00:55,870 --> 00:00:59,520
The newer medicines have improved
the treatment dramatically.
00:00:59,520 --> 00:01:06,013
In many cases, treatment lasts for just
12 weeks and they have a 95% cure rate.
00:01:06,013 --> 00:01:10,286
But the problem remains that too many
people with Hepatitis C don't know they
00:01:10,286 --> 00:01:13,980
have it, and if you don't know you
have it you can't get treated.
00:01:14,980 --> 00:01:19,380
Most people with acute Hepatitis C
have no symptoms, or very mild or
00:01:19,380 --> 00:01:21,810
vague symptoms that could
be easily mistaken for
00:01:21,810 --> 00:01:27,010
something else, like feeling tired,
nauseous, or having muscle aches.
00:01:27,010 --> 00:01:28,750
So it's critical to get tested for
00:01:28,750 --> 00:01:32,770
Hepatitis C if you have any
potential risk factors.
00:01:32,770 --> 00:01:35,960
These include anyone who used
injection drugs in the past,
00:01:35,960 --> 00:01:39,150
even if it was only once or
a long, long time ago.
00:01:39,150 --> 00:01:44,716
Anyone who received donated blood,
blood products, or organs before 1992,
00:01:44,716 --> 00:01:49,500
which is when we started better
screening procedures for Hepatitis C.
00:01:49,500 --> 00:01:54,320
Anyone who got a body piercing or
a tattoo with a non-sterile instrument,
00:01:54,320 --> 00:01:59,215
people with HIV, health care workers
who got injured by needle sticks, and
00:01:59,215 --> 00:02:02,067
children born to mothers with Hepatitis C.
00:02:02,067 --> 00:02:03,683
00:02:03,683 --> 00:02:05,576
Hepatitis C can be serious, but
00:02:05,576 --> 00:02:09,240
now we have great treatments
that can cure the virus.
00:02:09,240 --> 00:02:13,580
So if you have any concerns whatsoever,
ask your doctor about getting tested so
00:02:13,580 --> 00:02:16,192
that you can learn your status and
00:02:16,192 --> 00:02:21,360
Hepatitis C FAQs for the public. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016. (Accessed on November 30, 2017 at https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/cfaq.htm.)
Hepatitis C: why people born from 1945-1965 should get tested. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016. (Accessed on November 30, 2017 at https://www.cdc.gov/knowmorehepatitis/media/pdfs/factsheet-boomers.pdf.)
Patient education: hepatitis C (beyond the basics). Waltham, MA: UpToDate. (Accessed on November 30, 2017 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/hepatitis-c-beyond-the-basics.)