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Hepatitis C

Disease Summary:

Hepatitis C is a viral infection of the liver.  It is the most common cause of chronic viral liver disease in the United States, with an estimated 4 million Americans infected with the hepatitis C virus.  It is more common in those individuals born between 1945 and 1965. The CDC recommends screening for Hepatitis C in those individuals born between those years.  The majority of individuals with chronic hepatitis C have no symptoms.  Some may complain of abdominal pain, fatigue, itching, or nausea.  A blood test can be done to determine if one has hepatitis C.  Hepatitis C is spread primarily by contact with blood or blood products.  The injection of illicit drugs is the most common way of transmission, including those who only used drugs once or many years ago.  Other risk factors include receiving a blood transfusion prior to 1992, long-term kidney dialysis patients, individuals with tattoos or body piercing other than pierced ears.  Hepatitis C can be spread by sex, but this is rare.


Cirrhosis will develop in approximately 20% of individuals with chronic hepatitis C infection.  Factors that influence the progression to cirrhosis include alcohol consumption and obesity.  Regular alcohol intake has been shown to increase liver damage in patients with chronic hepatitis C infection.  Therefore, these individuals are advised to avoid alcohol.  Hepatocellular carcinoma, cancer beginning in the liver, can occur in those with chronic hepatitis C and cirrhosis.  Hepatitis C is currently the most common cause for liver transplantation.


Treatment options for cure of hepatitis C are rapidly changing and are much more effective with cure rates in most circumstances over 90%.

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