Hepatitis C?

This infection of the liver is caused by the hepatitis C virus. About 3.5 million people in the U.S. have the disease. But it causes few symptoms, so most of them don't know.

There are many forms of the hepatitis C virus. The most common in the U.S. is type 1. None is more serious than any other, but they respond differently to treatment.

What Are the Symptoms?

Many people with Hepatitis have no symptoms. But you could notice these:

  • Jaundice (a condition that causes yellow eyes and skin, as well as dark urine)
  • Stomach pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue

How Do You Get It?

The virus spreads through the blood or body fluids of an infected person.

You can catch it from:

  • Sharing drugs and needles
  • Having sex, especially if you have an STD, an HIV infection, several partners, or have rough sex
  • Being stuck by infected needles
  • Birth -- a mother can pass it to a child

Who Gets It?

The CDC recommends you get tested for the disease if you:

  • Received blood from a donor who had the disease.
  • Have ever injected drugs.
  • Had a blood transfusion or an organ transplant before July 1992.
  • Received a blood product used to treat clotting problems before 1987.
  • Were born between 1945 and 1965.
  • Have been on long-term kidney dialysis.
  • Have HIV.
  • Were born to a mother with hepatitis C.

Causes

Hepatitis C is a liver disease that is caused by infection with the hepatitis C virus, a virus that lives in your liver cells.

How it spreads

You cannot get hepatitis C from casual contact such as hugging, kissing, sneezing, coughing, or sharing food or water with someone. You can get hepatitis C if you come into contact with the blood of someone who has hepatitis C.

The most common way to get hepatitis C is by sharing needles and other equipment (such as cotton, spoons, and water) used to inject illegal drugs.

Before 1992, people could get hepatitis C through blood transfusions and organ transplants. Since 1992, all donated blood and organs are screened for hepatitis C, so it is now rare to get the virus this way.

In rare cases, a mother with hepatitis C spreads the virus to her baby at birth, or a health care worker is accidentally exposed to blood that is infected with hepatitis C.

The risk of getting hepatitis C through sexual contact is very small.1 The risk is higher if you have many sex partners.

If you live with someone who has hepatitis C or you know someone who has hepatitis C, you generally don't need to worry about getting the disease from that person. You can help protect yourself by not sharing anything that may have blood on it, such as razors, toothbrushes, and nail clippers.

Symptoms

Most people who are infected with hepatitis C-even people who have been infected for a while-usually don't have symptoms.

If symptoms do develop, they may include:

  • Fatigue.
  • Joint pain.
  • Belly pain.
  • Itchy skin.
  • Sore muscles.
  • Dark urine.
  • Jaundice, a condition in which the skin and the whites of the eyes look yellow.

A hepatitis C infection can cause damage to your liver (cirrhosis). If you develop cirrhosis, you may have:

  • Redness on the palms of your hands caused by expanded small bloodvessels.
  • Clusters of blood vessels just below the skin that look like tiny red spiders and usually appear on your chest, shoulders, and face.
  • Swelling of your belly, legs, and feet.
  • Shrinking of the muscles.
  • Bleeding from enlarged veins in your digestive tract, which is called variceal bleeding.
  • Damage to your brain and nervous system, which is called encephalopathy. This damage can cause symptoms such as confusion and memory and concentration problems.

Many other health problems are linked with long-term cirrhosis. For more information, see the topic Cirrhosis. There also are many other conditions with similar symptoms, such as other liver infections and liver damage caused by drinking too much alcohol.

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