Hepatitis C, another virus that causes inflammation of the liver, is the most common course of chronic viral hepatitis in the U.S. It is transmitted via exposure to infected human blood, most commonly through needles (intravenous drug use, tattoos from unsterilized equipment, accidental needle sticks, etc.) or a blood transfusion prior to 1990. In rare cases, it is spread by sexual exposure. Unlike hepatitis A and hepatitis B, no immunization is available against this virus. Three quarters of all patients with chronic hepatitis C were born between 1945 and 1965, and screening is recommended for all patients in this age group.
Hepatitis C has both an acute and a chronic form, but at least 75 percent of hepatitis C infections are chronic. Chronic hepatitis C is a risk factor, over time, for cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Many people who have chronic hepatitis C do not experience symptoms; their infection is discovered only when they are screened for HCV, their liver function is compromised, or they begin to show the signs of liver disease.
The most common symptoms of chronic hepatitis C include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Itching, skin rash
Even when hepatitis C is asymptomatic it may be passed to others.
New interferon-free treatment regimens for hepatitis C have recently become available, and offer the highest chance of cure than ever before, even if other treatments have failed.
At MedStar Health, our patients with hepatitis C are given comprehensive care in our Pancreas and Liver Diseases program and are monitored regularly for signs the liver disease is developing. For patients who have already developed cirrhosis from hepatitis C, liver transplantation may be the only alternative.