There are over 3 million people in the United States living with Hepatitis C. Back in 2013 the U.S. Preventive Service Task Force and the Center for Disease Control came out with the recommendation that all baby boomers (those born between the years 1945-1965) get a one-time screening for Hepatitis C. Hepatitis is a general term indicating inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis C refers to inflammation caused by the Hepatitis C virus specifically.
People get Hepatitis C through blood. What this means is that any activity where the blood from someone who has Hepatitis C comes in contact with the blood from another person, the virus can be spread. This used to commonly occur from blood transfusions before the year 1992. Since that time, blood products have been screened for the virus and transmission from a blood transfusion today is a rare occurrence. Other ways people can obtain Hepatitis C through blood are from sharing needles and IV drug use, getting a tattoo from a non-sterile needle, and sharing other items where there may be blood such as razors. Babies born from women who are infected with the Hepatitis C virus also are at risk for developing the disease. Sexual contact can transmit the virus, although the risk for transmission for people in a monogamous relationship is considered low.
Most people who are infected with Hepatitis C develop chronic hepatitis. What this means is that their body does not get rid of the virus and so the virus can cause long-term damage to your liver if it is not treated with medication. Most people who are infected do not have any symptoms, and only find out they are infected through blood work.
The complications from Hepatitis C can vary. Some people have no damage to their liver; many people who have the disease will eventually develop some degree of damage. If there is enough inflammation in the liver from the virus, people can develop permanent scarring of the liver, known as cirrhosis. Hepatitis C is now the most common cause of cirrhosis in the United States, more common than from alcohol. In people who have cirrhosis, there is about a 2-4% per year risk of developing cancer in the liver.
Hepatitis C was treated in the past with a combination of a pill and a shot called interferon. These treatments, although they had become more effective over the years, had many side effects which often prevented patients from completing treatment and getting rid of the virus. There are now several oral medications that have very few side effects and are over 95% successful in eradicating the Hepatitis C virus in as little as 8-12 weeks.
If you are not sure if you have Hepatitis C, if you do have Hepatitis C, but are not sure if a particular medication is safe to take, or if you think you may need to be screened for Hepatitis C, you should always check with your physician.
Dr. Alan Gingold is a partner at Digestive Healthcare Center in Hillsborough, NJ. He also has offices in Somerville and Warren, NJ. If you would like to make an appointment you can call his office at (908) 218-9222 or you can visit the website www.DHCcenter.com