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Hepatitis C Facts, Transmission and Symptoms

What is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a virus which can attack and severely damage the liver.  Originally called “non-A non-B hepatitis”, hepatitis C is the presumed cause of most cases of chronic liver disease in the United States.  Well over 100,000 cases of Hepatitis C are diagnosed in this country each year.

How is hepatitis C transmitted?

Hepatitis C is transmitted most commonly by exposure to infected blood or, more rarely, by sexual contact.  Transmission can also occur from an infected mother to her child in the womb.  Intravenous drug users and people who received blood products through the early 1990’s have a greater incidence of infection, and infections have been linked to blood exposure in the workplace, particularly in health care and medical emergency settings.  Most long term sexual partners of people discovered to be infected with hepatitis C have not contracted the disease.  On the other hand, hepatitis C has been found in a substantial number of people who have no clear risks.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis C?

Early symptoms can include fatigue, stomach discomfort, poor appetite, weakness, tiredness, muscle aches, joint pains, skin rash and jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and eyes, can begin two weeks to six month after infection, with most starting six to nine weeks after exposure.  In chronic cases, serious liver problems such as cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer can develop.

Can hepatitis C be treated or cured?

Hepatitis C infection can sometimes clear on its own, but most of the time it does not.  There is no effective vaccine for hepatitis C at the present time.  Treatment for chronic hepatitis C can include interferon and ribavirin, both antivirals.  Less than 50% of infected persons go on to develop serious problems, and fewer still actually die of hepatitis related complications.


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