What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is the most common liver disease and the most prevalent cause for liver transplantation in the United States. It is estimated that more than four million Americans live with the hepatitis C virus, but most people don’t know they have it. Hepatitis C is a slow-progressing virus that causes advanced complications of liver disease over time. If not treated, these chronically infected individuals will likely develop and die from disease-related complications. Annually, 12,000-14,000 Americans die from the disease. Doctors expect that number to triple in the next 10 years, as the baby boomer population – and their livers – age.
Unlike hepatitis A and hepatitis B, hepatitis C does not have a vaccine to prevent it. But it can be treated. Early detection of hepatitis C is important as there are more effective treatments today that can lead to a cure.
Here at Mount Sinai, our doctors and staff are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis C. If you think you may be at risk, we urge you to come in and get tested. Our dedicated staff treats you with compassion, courtesy and great care.
Symptoms of Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is often called the hidden or “silent killer” because by the time most people have symptoms, they are already at the point of having very advanced liver disease, including cirrhosis, and are in need of a liver transplant.
While the majority of patients with hepatitis C have no symptoms at all, some may have a yellow cast to their skin and eyes (jaundice), as well as mild to severe flu-like symptoms. These may include:
- Abdominal discomfort
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
Should I be Tested for Hepatitis C?
Contrary to common belief, anyone can get hepatitis C – not just IV-drug users. Hepatitis C is a blood-borne viral infection. All it takes is blood-to-blood exposure for you to be at risk for contracting the hepatitis C virus. The good news is that all it takes is a simple blood test to see if you have the virus. If you catch it early, the chances of being cured are extremely high.
People who have high risk factors for hepatitis C should be routinely screened for the hepatitis C virus. Risk factors include:
- A history of using illicit drugs via injection or the nose
- HIV, dialysis treatment, or elevated liver enzymes of unknown origin
- Blood transfusion or transplantation prior to 1992
- Children born to hepatitis C virus-infected mothers
- Health care workers after needle stick injury from a known hepatitis C virus patient
- Individuals originating from a geographic region where the hepatitis C virus is prevalent, such as the former Soviet Union, Pakistan, or Egypt
- People who have received tattoos from unlicensed tattoo parlors or received manicures and pedicures with tools that haven’t been properly sterilized and cleaned
- Having shared personal care items, such as razors or toothbrushes, which may have contained another person’s blood