Hepatitis C, also known as Hep C or HCV, is an infectious viral disease that causes inflammation of the liver. Persons can contract the disease through contact with blood from an infected person and it is most commonly spread through the sharing of needles and drug paraphernalia or non-sterile tattoo and body piercing instruments. Sexual transmission of Hep C does occur, but it is not easily spread in this manner. Many older individuals, especially those in the ‘baby boomer’ generation (born between 1946 and 1965) may have contracted the virus from a blood transfusion, before the blood supply was screened for HCV, beginning in July of 1992. Most people infected with Hep C develop a chronic form of the disease, though some develop an acute infection.
Acute Hepatitis C
Acute Hep C is a short-term viral infection in which a person may experience mild symptoms, such as vomiting, fatigue, abdominal pain, poor appetite and jaundice, which usually occur within the first six months of exposure. In the majority of cases, those infected never experience symptoms.
Though those diagnosed with acute Hep C may improve without treatment, 75-80% of those infected develop a chronic infection, which can cause long-term problems, including liver damage, liver failure and liver cancer.
Chronic Hepatitis C
The presence of Hep C in the body for six months or longer is known as a chronic condition and can lead to serious liver problems, including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver failure or liver cancer. Many of those with Hep C may already have a chronic form of the disease when they’re first diagnosed because they were unknowingly infected years prior. Your healthcare provider or Hep C expert will perform a full medical evaluation to determine how much damage, or scarring, is present in your liver.
Until very recently, there were few effective treatment options for chronic Hep C. However, there are now several new treatments available to cure the chronic form of this disease. Please talk to your provider about treatment options available to you.
If you feel that you may have Hep C or have been exposed to the virus, please call (619) 876-4449 to schedule an appointment with a Family Health Centers of San Diego provider.
Hepatitis C and HIV
When an individual is infected with both Hep C and HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), it is often referred to as a Hep C and HIV co-infection. Co-infection means there are two infections present in the body at the same time. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. You can find more detailed information about HIV and AIDS by visiting The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Approximately a third of all Americans infected with HIV also have Hep C. Co-infection is much higher among people who inject drugs. In fact, more than three quarters of those who have been diagnosed with HIV AND use injection drugs are also infected with Hep C.
The Hep C/HIV co-infection can be effectively treated, though managing symptoms can be complicated. There are specific risks associated with this type of co-infection. HIV can:
- Quicken Hep C disease progression
- Triple the risk for liver disease and liver failure
- Increase the chance that Hep C will be sexually transmitted
- Increase the chance that a mother will infect her unborn child with Hep C
If you think you have been exposed to Hep C or HIV:
Please contact (619) 876-4449 for more information about screening and treatment options available to you.
For additional information on Hepatitis A Guidelines and Resources, visit the County’s website here.