What is Hepatitis C? Hepatitis C, also known as HVC, is a viral infection that causes liver inflammation sometimes leading to serious liver damage. HCV spreads through contaminated blood. This week LetsGetChecked tells you what you need to know.
- What Is Hepatitis C? (HCV)
- How Do You Get Hepatitis C (HCV)?
- What Are The Symptoms of Hepatitis C (HCV)?
- Learn About Hepatitis C (HCV) with Dr. Dominic Rowley
What Is Hepatitis C (HCV)?
Hepatitis C, also known as HVC, is a viral infection that causes liver inflammation sometimes leading to serious liver damage. HCV spreads through contaminated blood.
Chronic HCV is usually curable with oral medications taken every day for two to six months. Still, about half of people with HCV don’t know they’re infected, because they may have no symptoms, which could take decades to appear.
On average 130–150 million people globally have chronic HCV. A significant number of those who are chronically infected will develop liver cirrhosis or liver cancer. Approximately 500,000 people die each year from Hepatitis C-related liver diseases.
How Do You Get Hepatitis C (HCV)?
The most common way to get HCV is through exposure to infected blood. This can happen if the blood of someone who has HCV enters your own bloodstream.
This might happen if you:
- use a needle or syringe to inject drugs into your body that someone with HCV has already used.
- are injured by a needle stick in a lab or other healthcare setting, if that needle has come into contact with blood infected with HCV.
- share razors, toothbrushes, or other personal hygiene items that may have touched an infected person’s blood.
You can also get HCV from sexual contact, but this is less common. Certain sexual behaviours are riskier than others when it comes to increasing your chances of becoming infected.
You increase your risk of getting HCV if you have:
- more than one sexual partner
- a sexually transmitted disease
- sex that’s rough or could cause bleeding
What Are The Symptoms of Hepatitis C (HCV)?
Long-term infection with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is known as chronic Hepatitis C. Chronic Hepatitis C is usually a “silent” infection for many years, until the virus damages the liver enough to cause the signs and symptoms of liver disease. Among these signs and symptoms are:
- Bleeding easily
- Bruising easily
- Poor appetite
- Yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Dark-colored urine
- Itchy skin
- Fluid buildup in your abdomen (ascites)
- Swelling in your legs
- Weight loss
- Confusion, drowsiness and slurred speech (hepatic encephalopathy)
- Spider-like blood vessels on your skin (spider angiomas)
All cases of chronic Hepatitis C infection begin with an acute phase. Acute Hep C rarely causes symptoms, therefore it isn’t often diagnosed. If symptoms are present at this stage, they may include jaundice (mentioned above), along with fatigue, nausea, fever or muscle aches. If acute Hep C symptoms are to arise, they usually appear one to three months after exposure to the virus and last two weeks to three months time.
Acute Hepatitis C infection doesn’t always become chronic. Some people clear HCV from their bodies after the acute phase, this outcome is known as spontaneous viral clearance. In studies of people diagnosed with acute HCV, rates of spontaneous viral clearance have varied from 14 to 50 percent. Acute Hep C also responds well to antiviral therapy.
Learn About Hepatitis C (HCV) with Dr. Dominic Rowley
Written by Hannah Kingston | Approved by Medical Director Dominic Rowley