What Is Hepatitis C?

Viral hepatitis is composed of a series of distinct diseases that primarily affect the liver. There are five known hepatitis variants that have different symptoms and treatments – Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. Hepatitis C (HCV) is a blood-borne virus that is a short-term illness, however, 70 – 85% of people infected with HCV develop a long-term, chronic infection.

Hepatitis C Symptoms

Many sufferers experience few or no symptoms, making HCV especially dangerous and more easily spread. People with acute HCV are usually asymptomatic or will experience mild symptoms, such as:

  • Fever
  • Dark Urine
  • Fatigue
  • Clay-Colored Stool
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Joint Pain
  • Jaundice
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Abdominal Pain

Symptoms generally appear between 4 to 12 weeks after initial infection, although they can potentially manifest between 2 to 24 weeks after infection. Although no vaccine exists for HCV, there are available testing and treatment methods. Chronic HCV can usually be cured with a daily oral medication regimen over two to six months.

How is Hepatitis C Contracted?

Because it’s a virus, Hepatitis C can be contracted in a variety of different ways. Infection occurs primarily due to repeated exposures to infectious blood, especially through cuts or open areas in the skin that allow the virus to reach the bloodstream or tissues. HCV is commonly contracted through:

  • Injection Drug Use (IDU)
  • Needlestick Injuries in Health Care Settings
  • Birth to an HCV-Infected Mother
  • Receipt of Untested, Donated Blood Products and Organs

HCV can also be spread through:

  • Sex with an HCV Positive Partner
  • Sharing Personal Items Contaminated with HCV Positive Blood

Studies have shown that injection drug users are the most likely to become infected. It’s estimated that one-third of young adults, 18 to 30, who participate in IDUs are HCV infected. Older and former IDUs also have a higher prevalence with 70 to 90% experiencing HCV infection, given the increased risk of continued drug use and relapse. Needle sharing from 1970 – 1980 is attributed to especially high rates in that demographic.

Risk Factors for Hepatitis C

The risk for acquiring HCV infections through transfused blood or blood products in the U.S. is relatively low as newer, more advanced methods for testing and treating blood and organs for HCV exist and can more reliably detect infected products.

HCV testing is highly recommended for the following:

  • People Born Between 1945 and 1965
  • People Who Have Injected Illicit Drugs
  • Patients Who Received Blood Transfusions and Organs Before July 1992
  • Anyone Who Has Ever Received Long-Term Hemodialysis Treatment
  • Health Care Workers Who Have Suffered Needlestick Injuries
  • Patients Who Display Symptoms of Liver Disease
  • People Infected with HIV or Diagnosed with AIDS
  • Children Born to HCV Positive Mothers

Hepatitis Testing and Treatment at St. Hope Foundation

Access to reliable testing and medication can be difficult, even with insurance coverage. St. Hope Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) community health care organization that was created in response to the growing need for innovative, affordable, and effective health care. One of our goals is to provide quality services that reduce health disparities within Houston and rural counties.

At St. Hope, vital testing and treatments are always within reach. Schedule an appointment today to get tested and receive treatment should you test positive for HCV or any other diseases.