The National Academies: What You Need To Know About Infectious Disease

The National Academies

What You Need To Know About Infectious Disease

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness that attacks the liver. It results from infection with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is spread primarily through contact with the blood of an infected person. Hepatitis C can be either “acute” or “chronic.”

Today, most people become infected with the Hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. Before 1992, when widespread screening of the blood supply began in the United States, Hepatitis C was commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. Although less common, a person also can get a Hepatitis C infection through sharing personal care items that may have come in contact with another person’s blood, such as razors or toothbrushes, and by having sexual contact with a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus.

Symptoms
Approximately 70 to 80 percent of people with acute Hepatitis C do not have any symptoms. However some people exhibit mild to severe symptoms, which can include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, jaundice, joint pain, and pale or clay-colored bowel movements.

Treatment
Treatment depends on whether the Hepatitis C infection is acute or chronic. There is no medication available to treat an acute Hepatitis C infection. Doctors usually recommend rest, good nutrition, and fluids.

The treatment used most often for chronic Hepatitis C is a combination of two medicines, interferon and ribavirin. However, not every person with chronic Hepatitis C needs or will benefit from treatment. In addition, the drugs may cause serious side effects in some patients.

Each patient should discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating hepatitis, and people with chronic Hepatitis C should be monitored regularly for signs of liver disease and evaluated for treatment.

Prevention
Individuals can reduce the risk of Hepatitis C infection by avoiding contact with blood or blood products. Individuals should also avoid the use of injected illicit drugs and sharing needles with others and should be careful when getting tattoos or body piercings. Engaging in stable, monogamous relationships can reduce the risk of infection through sexual transmission. When having sex outside of a monogamous relationship, individuals can reduce their risk of infection by practicing safe sexual behaviors.

Sources:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001329/
http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/C/cFAQ.htm#overview
 

Explore Other Topics

What do you know about infectious disease?

Each year, how many Americans become infected by what they eat?

  • Sorry, that’s incorrect.

    Each year about 76 million Americans—or one in four—become infected by what they eat. Approximately 325,000 are hospitalized. More than 5,000 (14 a day) die.

  • Sorry, that’s incorrect.

    Each year about 76 million Americans—or one in four—become infected by what they eat. Approximately 325,000 are hospitalized. More than 5,000 (14 a day) die.

  • Correct!

    Each year about 76 million Americans—or one in four—become infected by what they eat. Approximately 325,000 are hospitalized. More than 5,000 (14 a day) die.

Infectious Disease Defined

Interferon

A type of protein produced by white blood cells that blocks viruses from reproducing.

View our full glossary