If you’re like me, your high school health teacher may have covered Hep C in all of 10 minutes. You learned it had something to do with your liver and was a virus, but that’s basically it. Don’t worry though, because we’re here to give you a quick health lesson on everything Hep C.
What Is It?
Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that can either appear as an acute mild illness or a serious chronic one. (Need help remembering how important your liver is? WebMD is here to help.)
Acute Hep C is a short-term illness that develops within the first 6 months after the initial exposure. Chronic Hep C is long-term, and occurs when the virus remains in a person’s body, leading to serious liver damage such as cirrhosis and sometimes cancer.
Unlike Hep A & B which have vaccines to help prevent you from getting it, there is no vaccine for Hep C.
How Big of Deal Is It Really?
In 2014, over 30,000 cases of acute Hep C were reported in the U.S. It is estimated that 2.7-3.9 million people have chronic Hep C. Of those, roughly 85% of people who become infected will develop the chronic infection.
How is Hep C Transmitted?
It is most commonly spread when infected blood enters the body of someone else. This means that IV drug users who share needles represent the majority of new cases of Hep C each year.
It also poses a huge risk for health care professionals since they work with needles a lot. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for them to become infected by accidentally sticking themselves with a needles that was just used on an infected patient.
It can also be spread when a Hep C positive mother passes it on to her child during pregnancy or childbirth. Less commonly, a person can contract Hep C via personal care items that may have come in contacted with infected blood such as razors or toothbrushes and sexual contact.
Other Good Facts to Know
Hep C can be spread through any type of blood contact including contact with dried blood. Unlike the HIV virus which can only last for a few hours outside of it’s host, Hep C can survive outside the body at room temperature for up to 3 weeks on some surfaces.
Luckily, Hep C is not spread by any of the following methods: sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding, hugging/kissing, holding hands, coughing, sneezing, or via food or water.
Although there is a risk associated with Hep C positive women who are pregnant, only about 6 out of every 100 infants born to these women become infected with the virus. Unfortunately, those who are infected with both HIV and Hep C have a dramatically increased chance of passing the virus along to their infant.
Similar to those infected with HIV, 70-80 percent of people with acute Hep C don’t have symptoms. For those who do report symptoms, the most common ones are:
Loss of appetite
Most people report experiencing symptoms 6-7 weeks after exposure. Like the HIV virus, the presence or absence of symptoms is not directly related to how infectious they are.
Of every 100 people infected with Hep C, 75-85 people will develop chronic Hep C infection; of those
60-70 will develop chronic liver disease
5-20 will develop cirrhosis over 20-30 years
1-5 will die from cirrhosis or liver cancer
Acute Hep C infection is treatable, and about 15-25% of acute infections will clear on their own.
This does not mean however, that your risk of developing chronic Hep C infection is reduced. If someone develops chronic Hep C, there are medications for treatment as well.
Researchers are continually working to understand more about the Hep C infection and a potential vaccine could be developed in the future. The CDC does not currently recommend those who are infected to be restricted in any capacity from participating in work, school, childcare, or any other settings.
With proper treatment and preventative measures, those who are infected with Hep C can go on to live relatively normal lives. Proper education and prevention efforts will continue to play a vital role in Hep C reduction and decreasing the stigma around getting tested. So spread the word and get tested to stop the spread of Hep C!