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This infection is caused by a virus that damages the liver. People can contract an acute or chronic form of the disease. In 15 to 25 of every 100 people who test positive for acute hepatitis C, the infection clears up without any problem.
In contrast, 75 to 85 of every 100 people who contract hepatitis C have the chronic, lifelong form of the virus. Within that same group of 100, 60 to 70 individuals will suffer long-term liver disease. Others will develop cirrhosis of the liver.
The latest findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal nearly 2.7 million people in the U.S. are living with chronic hepatitis C and it is claiming more lives.
Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood contact between humans. It is most often spread by sharing drug needles. It can also be passed through sexual contact, even though the risk appears to be low. You won’t contract hepatitis C while getting tattoos or body piercings with clean equipment. If the equipment is not sterile, though, you can contract the virus.
The disease is rarely spread from mother to child during pregnancy. It is not passed through breast milk, water, food or casual contact like shaking hands, hugging or kissing. It is also not spread through bug bites.
Someone infected for many years may have liver damage and the symptoms that go with it. Chronic hepatitis C can cause liver failure, cirrhosis, cancer and even death.
Symptoms usually show up six to seven weeks after exposure to the disease. Twenty out of every 100 people never experience symptoms, but can still spread the disease.
Symptoms of acute hepatitis C include fever, loss of hunger, nausea and vomiting, stomach and joint pain, jaundice, clay-colored bowel movements and dark urine.
You should be tested for the virus if you:
There are a number of medicines available to treat Hepatitis C. If you’ve been diagnosed with the disease, talk with your doctor about treatment options. Check with your health insurer to find out all you can about doctors and care facilities in your plan’s network. You can also learn about the most affordable drugs in your health insurance plan to treat your hepatitis C.
Be careful when handling sharp needles and razors. Use condoms during sex. If you give or receive blood, that blood should be tested for hepatitis C. At risk individuals should be monitored for liver disease.
Originally published 4/25/2016; Revised 2021, 2023
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