Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. The liver is the largest organ inside the body, that you cannot live without and it does many important jobs, including: storing nutrients, removing waste products and worn-out cells from the blood, filtering and processing chemicals in food, alcohol, and medications, producing bile (a solution that helps digest fats and eliminate waste products). Toxins, certain drugs, some diseases, heavy alcohol use, and bacterial and viral infections can all cause hepatitis.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that can be a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness that attacks the liver. There are two types of Hepatitis C, acute and chronic.
- Acute Hepatitis C is hepatitis that lasts less than 6 months. Acute Hepatitis C can be very mild and resolve on its own, and some acute cases of Hepatitis C can be serious and require hospitalization.
- Chronic Hepatitis C is a lifelong (greater than 6 months) infection that can cause serious health problems including liver disease, liver failure, and even liver cancer.
How common is Hepatitis C in the United States?
An estimated 30,500 people in the United States have acute Hepatitis C.
An estimated 2.7-3.9 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C.
How is Hepatitis C spread?
People can become infected with the Hepatitis C virus during such activities as:
- Sharing needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject drugs
- Needlestick injuries in health care settings
- Being born to a mother who has Hepatitis C
Less commonly, a person can also get Hepatitis C virus infection through:
- Sharing personal care items that may have come in contact with another person’s blood, such as razors or toothbrushes
- Having sexual contact with a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus
Can you get Hepatitis C by getting a tattoo or piercing?
Contracting Hepatitis C (and other infectious diseases) is possible when poor infection-control practices are used during tattooing or piercing. Most licensed, commercial tattooing/piercing facilities follow strict infection-control policies to try and eliminate this risk.
What are ways Hepatitis C is NOT spread?
Hepatitis C virus is not spread by sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing, or sneezing. It is also not spread through food or water.
How long does the Hepatitis C virus survive outside the body?
The Hepatitis C virus can survive outside the body at room temperature, for up to 3 weeks.
Who is at risk for Hepatitis C?
Some people are at increased risk for Hepatitis C, including:
- Current injection drug users
- Past injection drug users
- Recipients of donated blood, blood products, and organs
- Hemodialysis patients or persons who spent many years on dialysis for kidney failure
- People who received body piercing or tattoos done with non-sterile instruments
- HIV-infected persons
- Children born to mothers infected with the Hepatitis C virus
Less common risks include:
- Having sexual contact with a person who is infected with the Hepatitis C virus
- Sharing personal care items, such as razors or toothbrushes, that may have come in contact with the blood of an infected person
What are the symptoms of acute Hepatitis C?
Approximately 70%–80% of people with acute Hepatitis C do not have any symptoms. Some people, however, can have mild to severe symptoms soon after being infected, including:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Joint pain
- Jaundice (yellow color in the skin or eyes)
How soon after exposure to Hepatitis C do symptoms appear?
IF symptoms occur, they will present within 6 weeks to 6 months after exposure. However, many people infected with the Hepatitis C virus do not develop symptoms.
Can a person spread Hepatitis C without having symptoms?
Yes, even if a person with Hepatitis C has no symptoms, he or she can still spread the virus to others.
Is it possible to have Hepatitis C and not know it?
Yes, many people who are infected with the Hepatitis C virus do not know they are infected because they do not look or feel sick.
Can chronic Hepatitis C be treated?
Yes. There are several medications available to treat chronic Hepatitis C, including new treatments that appear to be more effective and have fewer side effects than previous options.
What can a person with chronic Hepatitis C do to take care of his or her liver?
People with chronic Hepatitis C should be monitored regularly by an experienced doctor. They should avoid alcohol because it can cause additional liver damage. They also should check with a health professional before taking any prescription pills, supplements, or over-the-counter medications, as these can potentially damage the liver.
The above information was provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for more information click here to be directed to their website.