What Is Hepatitis C?
In general terms, hepatitis C means the liver is inflamed as a result of infection, alcohol, some medications, chemicals, toxins and other poisons, or by disease. It is one of many inflammations that attack the liver. Approximately 4 million people in the US alone have HCV (hepatitis C virus) antibodies, which means they have been exposed to the virus and may have been infected. Nearly half that number are unaware of that fact.
What Happens If Hepatitis C Isn't Treated?
Hepatitis C, if not dealt with, can become chronic, causing liver disease and damage, which can be very serious or fatal. Most people, up to 75 percent, affected with HCV end up with chronic HCV. Should the condition develop to the stage of liver failure, the only option is a liver transplant. It has become a growing public health concern not only in the US, but all over the world. It is the most common cause of viral hepatitis and is believed to be the cause of between 15-20 percent of all new cases of viral hepatitis and half of all cases of end stage liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Hepatitis C Is Contracted Through Blood And Blood Products
HCV is different from other viruses that can cause hepatitis. However, it is contagious and contact with blood or blood products is the primary way it is transmitted. The most common way HCV is contracted is through contaminated needles, such as those used by IV drug users. Contaminated blood, blood products, organs used in transplants, and transfusions, are all ways people can be infected with this virus.
In the 1990's a test was created to determine if blood was contaminated with HCV. The net result of that test is that the number of cases of hepatitis C that are caused by transfusions, hemodialysis, or transplants, had dropped almost to zero.
Sexually Transmitted Disease
However, blood products are not the only way HCV is passed. A mother can pass the virus to her newborn during birth and health care workers are at risk with the use of needle sticks that have been contaminated with HCV. Another method of transmission for this virus is through sexual intercourse with an infected person. Increased risk occurs when a person has multiple sex partners.
A person cannot get hepatitis C from touching or living with an infected person. However, it is possible to contract it through using an infected person's razor, nail clippers, or other personal care items that may have blood on them.
No Vaccine For Hepatitis C Available At Present
At present, there is no method of prevention for HCV other than avoiding contact with contaminated blood and organs and to avoid high risk sexual habits such as anal sex and multiple sex partners. The rate of progression of this disease can be slowed by eliminating alcohol and drugs and with some lifestyle changes.