Hepatitis C is a disease that can seriously damage your liver. It is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), one of a family of viruses that ranges from A to E and are distinguished by different modes of infection and different impacts on the body.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne illness. That means it spreads from one person to another through contaminated blood. Although there are several ways you can come into contact with an infected person's blood, most people get the disease through intravenous (IV) drug use or a needle prick.
If you have hepatitis C, the impact of the disease on your body and how fast the disease will progress can depend on many variables.
About 15% of people infected with HCV have few signs or symptoms of liver disease. For reasons still unknown, the effect of the virus on their liver is mild and they may live a seemingly normal, healthy life. These cases are known as acute hepatitis C, and they are rarely identified or reported. If you have this milder form, the virus may be undetectable at very low levels.
Roughly 75%-85% of those infected with HCV develop what is known as chronic hepatitis C. This type of hepatitis C remains in the body, and sufferers will likely develop liver problems, which can include cirrhosis, or extensive scarring of the liver; liver cancer; or liver failure. Common symptoms associated with advanced chronic hepatitis C could include fever, extreme fatigue, yellowing of the eyes and skin, nausea, and appetite loss.
If you have chronic hepatitis C, you are not alone. Roughly 3.2 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with the disease. Scientists have not yet found a cure for hepatitis C and there is no vaccine to protect against the virus, although there are vaccines against hepatitis A and B.
There are treatments for chronic hepatitis C, such as antiviral medications, to help make the virus undetectable and prevent liver damage. Like many other chronic diseases, the sooner you begin treatment, the better.
So, don't wait! If you have hepatitis C or believe you may have been exposed to HCV, be sure to see your doctor right away.