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Hepatitis C Virus Infection

Hepatitis means swelling (inflammation) of the liver. Hepatitis can be caused by different viruses such as hepatitis A, B, and C. It can also be caused by drugs and alcohol.

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is a disease that affects your liver. About 4 million people in the U.S. are thought to have chronic hepatitis C, making it the most common blood infection. Some people exposed to HCV are able to clear the infection on their own. However, in most cases the infection remains lifelong unless you get treatment.

The symptoms of HCV are often very mild. Most people carry the virus for years and not notice any symptoms. Even if you do not have any symptoms, it can be a serious illness. Over time it can cause other health problems, such as cirrhosis and liver cancer. The good news is that new treatments are able to cure HCV in many patients, and stop liver damage from the disease.

Outline of human figure showing liver and digestive tract. Closeup of liver tissue shows scarring.

How Are People Infected?

HCV spreads from person to person when blood containing the virus enters a healthy person’s bloodstream. This could happen through a blood transfusion, by sharing needles, during kidney dialysis, or other exposures to blood. HCV infection can also occur through sex, but this is much less common. 

It's recommended that you get tested for HCV if you:

  • Want to be tested

  • Were born between the years 1945 to 1965 (baby boomers)

  • Have ever used a needle to inject drugs, even if once and long ago

  • Had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992

  • Are a healthcare provider who had blood exposure to mucous membranes or broken skin, or had a needle-stick injury

  • Were on long-term kidney dialysis

  • Were born to a mother who had hepatitis C at the time

  • Are a Vietnam-era Veteran

  • Had infected blood come in contact with your mucous membranes or any areas of broken skin

  • Have tattoos or body piercings in nonregulated settings

  • Have ever snorted drugs or shared drug equipment

  • Have liver disease or abnormal liver function test

  • Have a history of alcohol abuse

  • Have hemophilia and received clotting factor before 1987

  • Have had a sexual partner with hepatitis C, now or in the past

  • Have had 10 or more lifetime sexual partners

  • Have HIV infection or hepatitis B infection

The CDC recommends HCV testing for all adults ages 18-79.

How HCV Affects Your Body

Once HCV enters the body, it travels through the bloodstream to the liver. There, HCV can cause inflammation. This means that liver tissue becomes swollen and damaged. Over time, inflamed liver tissue is replaced by scar tissue (fibrosis). When the liver is severely scarred, it is called cirrhosis. Cirrhosis of the liver can lead to complications such as liver cancer or liver failure. This is when the liver is unable to do its normal functions. This can cause serious health problems, or even death.

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 8/1/2020
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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