Hepatitis C – Infections, Transmission, and Symptoms

In the United States today, it is estimated that 3.2 million people are infected with the Hepatitis C virus. The virus is a contagious liver disease that can range in severity from a mild illness, to a serious life long condition. Infections worldwide are estimated at 150 to 200 million people, many of whom are not aware they are infected.

Hepatitis C is transmitted through blood to blood contact. It is not spread through air-born or direct-contact as with some other viruses. It has been shown that blood transfusions prior to 1992, sharing of needles for the injection of illegal drugs, and accidental transmission in healthcare environments are some of the most common ways the virus is transmitted. Although not as common; tattooing, body piercing, and acupuncture in a less than sterile environment have also been suspect. At home, we do not think twice about using razors or even nail clippers; but even then, blood to blood contact can occur.

Although symptoms can vary, it has been estimated that over 70% of those infected may show no symptoms at all. If symptoms do occur; they may arise weeks after exposure or even years down the road. Some of the signs of infection may be a low grade fever, nausea, fatigue, loss of appetite, and sore joints and muscles. Yellowing of the skin and eyes can occur as the condition worsens. If left untreated; cirrhosis, cancer of the liver, and eventually liver failure may occur.

Unfortunately, public awareness of Hepatitis C is somewhat lacking. Unless you are a health professional or have been diagnosed with the disease or know someone who has, you probably have limited knowledge of the causes, symptoms, and treatments. By increasing public awareness, we can hope to reduce the transmission rates, have an increased knowledge of symptoms, and move closer to a cure.