Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness that attacks the liver. It results from infection with the hepatitis C virus, which is spread primarily through exposure to infected blood. Hepatitis C can be either “acute” or “chronic.”
- Acute Hepatitis C is a short-term illness that occurs within the first six months after being exposed to the hepatitis C virus. For most individuals, an acute hepatitis C infection leads to a chronic infection.
- Chronic Hepatitis C is a long-term illness that occurs when the hepatitis C virus remains in an individual’s body.
How is Hepatitis C Transmitted?
Over 3 million people are infected with the hepatitis C virus every year, and most are unaware of their infection. An estimated 150 million people worldwide are living with chronic hepatitis, which increases the risk of developing liver damage and liver cancer.
The hepatitis C virus is most commonly transmitted through exposure to infectious blood. This can occur through:
- Blood transfusions and organ transplants
- Injections given with contaminated syringes and needle-stick injuries in health care settings
- Injection drug use
- Being born to a hepatitis C-infected mother
Hepatitis C Symptoms
When initially exposed to the virus, 80% of patients do not experience any symptoms but continue to carry the virus. Around 15% of untreated patients are able to spontaneously clear the hepatitis C virus but 75% to 85% of patients develop a chronic, long-term infection. Hepatitis C is a slow-progressing disease that may take 10 to 40 years to cause serious liver damage. Many patients infected with hepatitis C live for years without incident, and by the time symptoms have been detected, liver damage has already occurred.
Symptoms that may appear in acute or chronic phases of hepatitis C include:
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Grey-colored stools
- Joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)