Welcome to the Hepatitis C ChannelWelcome to the Hepatitis C Health Channel by eMedTV. Hepatitis C is a disease that causes inflammation of the liver. Approximately 300 million people worldwide are infected with the hepatitis C virus and 3.9 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C. Based on current hepatitis C statistics, it's estimated that 8,000 to 10,000 people die each year from chronic liver disease caused by hepatitis C.
What Causes Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is caused by infection with the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The virus is able to enter liver cells from the blood and then use those cells to make more copies of itself. During this process, liver cells are damaged -- leading to inflammation and possibly scarring of the liver.
How Is Hepatitis C Spread?
Hepatitis C is spread most frequently when a person comes in contact with infected blood. This can happen by working in a dialysis unit or sharing needles for tattoos, body piercings, or drugs. Toothbrushes, razors, or manicure tools can also harbor small amounts of infected blood. While hepatitis C transmission can occur through sexual intercourse, this is rare.
It is not currently believed that oral sex can spread hepatitis C. Also, you cannot get hepatitis C from a kiss, or from other everyday activities like shaking hands or hugging.
Possible Symptoms of Hepatitis C
Approximately 80% of people with hepatitis C have no symptoms -- even after many years. Most patients do not develop symptoms until there is already cirrhosis, or even liver failure.
If a person does have hepatitis C symptoms, he or she may:
- Feel tired
- Feel nauseated
- Not feel like eating
- Have a fever
- Have stomach pain
- Experience a dull pain or feeling of heaviness on the right side
- Have yellow skin (jaundice) or dark urine.
Diagnosing Hepatitis C
To make a diagnosis of hepatitis C, the doctor will take a medical history and perform a physical exam. When a liver problem such as hepatitis is suspected, additional tests are used to confirm the hepatitis C diagnosis. These tests can include a liver enzyme test, a Viral RNA (HCV RNA) test, and/or a liver biopsy.
Is There a Cure for Hepatitis C?
Currently, there is no guaranteed cure for hepatitis C. In some cases, a person's body will fight off the infection and no additional form of hepatitis C treatment is necessary. However, the majority of people with hepatitis C have a long-term (chronic) liver infection.
Medications can be used to help the body destroy the hepatitis C virus, but they do not always cure the disease entirely. The two main types of hepatitis C medication are peginterferon and ribavirin. Peginterferon is a man-made version of a natural protein that helps your immune system fight infections. This hepatitis C medication is given as a weekly injection. Ribavirin is a pill taken twice a day. While peginterferon and ribavirin are the medications of choice for treating hepatitis C, most people experience at least a few side effects from this combination therapy.