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    Hepatitis C

    Hepatitis C is a viral disease that leads to swelling (inflammation) of the liver.

    Other types of viral hepatitis include:

    • Hepatitis A
    • Hepatitis B
    • Hepatitis D

    Hepatitis C infection is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV).

    You can catch hepatitis C if the blood of someone who has hepatitis C enters your body. Exposure may occur:

    • After a needle stick or sharps injury
    • If blood from someone who has hepatitis Ccontacts a cut on your skin or contacts your eyes or mouth

    People at risk of hepatitis C are those who:

    • Inject street drugs or share a needle with someone who has hepatitis C
    • Have been on long-term kidney dialysis
    • Have regular contact with blood at work (such as a health care worker)
    • Have unprotected sexual contact with a person who has hepatitis C
    • Were born to a mother who had hepatitis C
    • Received a tattoo or acupuncture with needles that were not disinfected properly after being used on another person (risk is very low with practitioners who have a tattoo license or permit or an acupuncture license)
    • Received an organ transplantfrom a donor who has hepatitis C
    • Share personal items such as toothbrushes and razors with someone who has hepatitis C (less common)
    • Received a blood transfusion (rare in the U.S.)

    Symptoms

    Most people whoare recently infected with hepatitis C do not have symptoms. Some people have yellowing of the skin (jaundice) that goes away. Chronic infection usually causes no symptoms. But tiredness, skin disorders and other problem can occur. Persons who have long-term (chronic) infection often have no symptoms until their liver becomes scarred (cirrhosis). Most people with this condition are ill and have many health problems.

    The following symptomsmay occur with hepatitis C infection:

    • Pain in the right upper abdomen
    • Abdominal swelling due to fluid (ascites)
    • Clay-colored or pale stools
    • Dark urine
    • Fatigue
    • Fever
    • Itching
    • Jaundice
    • Loss of appetite
    • Nausea and vomiting

    Blood tests are done to check forhepatitis C:

    • EIA assay to detect hepatitis C antibody
    • Hepatitis C RNA assays to measure virus levels (viral load)

    A one-time screening for hepatitis C is now recommended foreveryoneborn from 1945 to 1965 (the "Baby Boom" generation).

    Genetic testing is done to check forthe type of hepatitis C (genotype). Six genotypes exist (genotypes 1 through 6). Test results can help your doctor choose treatment that is best for you.

    The following tests are done to identify and monitor liver damage from hepatitis C:

    • Albumin level
    • Liver function tests
    • Prothrombin time
    • Liver biopsy

    Treatment

    Common medicines used includepeginterferonand antiviral drugs. These medicines are aimed at:

    • Helping the body get rid of the virus.
    • Reducing the risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer, which can result from long-term HCV infection.

    For these medicines to work best, you need to take them as instructed by your health care provider. Ask what side effects you can expect and what to do if you have them.

    Aliver transplantmay be recommended for persons who develop cirrhosis and liver cancer. Your health care provider can tell you more about liver transplant.

    If you havehepatitis C:

    • Do not takeover-the-counter medicines that you have not taken beforewithout asking your health care provider. Also ask about vitamins and other supplements.
    • Do not use alcohol or street drugs. Alcohol can speed up the damage to your liver. It can also reduce how well medicines work.
    • Ask your health care provider whether you need the hepatitis A and hepatitisB vaccines.

    Support Groups

    Joining a support groupcan help ease the stress of having hepatitis C. Ask your health care provider about liver disease resourcesand support groups in your area.

    Outlook (Prognosis)

    Most people with hepatitis C infection have the chronic form. Persons with genotype 2 or 3 are more likely to respond to treatment thanthose with genotype 1.

    The goal of treatment is to reduce the chance of liver damage and liver cancer. A good response to treatmentoccurs when the virus is no longer detected in the blood after treatment. New and more effective medicines are being developed. As a result, more and morepersons withHCV are able to avoid serious liver damage and even liver cancer.

    When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Call your health care provider if:

    • You develop symptoms of hepatitis
    • You believe you have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus

    Prevention

    Things that can be done to prevent the spread of hepatitis C from one person to another include:

    • Health care workers should follow precautions when handling blood.
    • Do not share needles with anyone.
    • Do not get tattoos or body piercings or receive acupuncture from someone who does not have a permit or license.
    • Do not share personal items such as razors and toothbrushes.
    • Practice safer sex.

    If you or your partner is infected with hepatitis C and you have been in a stable and monogamous (noother partners) relationship,the risk of giving the virus to,or getting the virus from, the other personis low.

    Hepatitis C virus cannot be spread by casual contact, such as holding hands, kissing, coughing or sneezing, breastfeeding,sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses.

    Currently there is no vaccine for hepatitis C.

    References

    Ghany MG, Strader DB, Thomas DL, Seeff LB. American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases. Diagnosis, management, and treatment of hepatitis C: an update. Hepatology. 2009;49:1335-1374.

    Jou JH, Muir AJ. In the clinic. Hepatitis C. Ann Intern Med. 2008;148:ITC6-1-ITC6-16.

    Moyer VA; U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for hepatitis C virus infection in adults: U.S. Preventive services task force recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med. 2013 Sep 3;159(5):349-57.

    O'Leary JG, Davis GL. Hepatitis C. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 79.

    Rosen HR. Clinical practice. Chronic hepatitis C infection. N Engl J Med. 2011;364(25):2429-38.

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    • Hepatitis C

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    • Hepatitis C

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    • Hepatitis C

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    A Closer Look

      Self Care

      Tests for Hepatitis C

      Review Date: 11/16/2012

      Reviewed By: George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

      The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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