Hepatitis C is one of six different viruses (there is also A, B, D, E and G) that cause inflammation in the liver. This type of viral hepatitis is different from other types of hepatitis. Everyone with hepatitis A and most people with hepatitis B develop an acute infection, recover completely and develop antibodies that protect them from getting the disease again. However, with the hepatitis C virus, the body is unable to fight the infection and develop antibodies to fully recover and protect itself from future infection. As a result, most people with the disease end up with hepatitis C as a chronic condition.
In many cases, hepatitis C has no symptoms until significant liver damage has occurred. This includes cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) which can lead to liver failure.
It is caused by the hepatitis C virus, which is typically spread by coming in contact with the blood of someone who is already infected. Thus, one can contract the virus by sharing drug needles or by accidentally being stuck by a needle carrying infected blood. Babies born to mothers who are infected can also contract the disease.
Most people with hepatitis C do not have symptoms. This is especially true early in the disease. If there are symptoms, they are usually mild and flu-like — fatigue, nausea, fever, and lack of appetite. Some people may also have dark yellow urine, jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin), or light-colored stools.
Routine blood tests will show an elevation in certain liver enzymes. The physician can then order a specific blood test to determine if you have hepatitis C.
Treatment is typically with a daily oral drug for a short course with an excellent (98%) response rate for most patients. In patients with liver failure, a transplant may need to be considered. If you have the disease, you should especially avoid alcohol and any certain medications that could pose a risk to your liver.
You should also discuss vaccination against hepatitis viruses A and B with your physician in order to avoid further infection and additional complications.
You can prevent getting hepatitis C by not sharing razors, manicure tools, toothbrushes, IV needles or anything else that might carry infected blood. Practices such as ear piercing and tattooing should be avoided in places where sterile conditions are questionable. If you are involved with multiple sexual partners, always use barrier protection.