While Hepatitis C awareness is growing, many people are still unfamiliar with what the infection is and who should be tested. Cathy McAffee, Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner at Keystone Community Outreach, reviews some facts and statistics about Hepatitis C.
What is Hepatitis C?
In short, it is an inflammation of the liver. The liver processes nutrients, filters blood and prevents infections. When inflamed, these functions can be affected. Thanks to modern medicine, treatments are available that can cure Hep C for many infected people.
How does someone get Hepatitis C?
Hep C is most often considered a virus. Medical equipment and procedures used before universal infection control was adopted could have infected patients, as well as blood and blood products. As awareness grew and screenings became more frequent, the virus was nearly eliminated from the medical blood supply by 1992. Currently, most people become infected by sharing needles, syringes, or any other equipment used to inject drugs. Although very rare, it can also be transmitted sexually, and about 6% of infants born to an infected mother will contract the virus.
What are the symptoms?
Most people with Hep C do not know they are infected as many times symptoms do not occur. If symptoms do happen, they can include fever, tiredness, dark urine, yellow skin and eyes and lack of appetite.
How can you find out if you are infected?
A blood test, as simple as a fingerstick, can test for the virus, and results can be available in minutes.
Who should be tested?
People born between 1945-1965, the group often referred to as “Baby Boomers,” should be tested for the infection at least once. Infection rates were highest from the 1960s-1980s, and three out of four people with Hep C are from this generation. In addition, people who received blood or organs before 1992, ever used injected drugs or shared needles (even if only once), were exposed to blood from an infected person, have certain chronic medical conditions, abnormal liver tests or liver disease, and those on hemodialysis should also be tested.
How can I avoid getting Hep C?
There is no vaccine to prevent Hep C, but you can take certain steps to help reduce the risk of contracting it such as: not sharing personal items that could be contaminated with blood such as needles and syringes, glucose monitors, razors, nail clippers and toothbrushes, and only getting tattoos and body piercings from a licensed professional in an authorized location.
This article contains general information only and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or care by a qualified health care provider.