Hepatitis C is a potentially dangerous, life-threatening virus with few symptoms. In fact, there may be thousands of adults walking around with this virus who don’t even realize it. Baby boomers face the highest risk of infection and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends those born between 1945 and 1965 get tested. The good news is, Hepatitis C is completely treatable—as long as you catch it before it causes liver damage or liver cancer. Learn more about the risks and causes of Hepatitis C and how GI Associates & Endoscopy Center can help.
What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. Medications, alcohol use, and toxins can cause hepatitis, but in most cases, it is caused by a virus. There are three known hepatitis viruses—hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. Currently, there are vaccinations to prevent both hepatitis A and B, but there is not a vaccine for hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is broken down into two categories, acute and chronic. Acute hepatitis C describes a mild illness that only lasts for a few weeks within the first six months of exposure to the virus. Chronic hepatitis C refers to a lifelong infection that occurs when the virus is left untreated. In this case, hepatitis C leads to liver damage, liver cancer, cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), and death.
How Do I Know If I Have Hepatitis C?
There are some symptoms associated with hepatitis C, however, those affected by the virus can live for decades without feeling sick. People with mild acute hepatitis C may experience fever, fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea, loss of appetite, joint pain, dark urine, or jaundice. When symptoms do not appear and hepatitis C is not treated, there is no indication that something is wrong.
People with hepatitis C often don’t know they have the virus until they develop liver disease, are screened for a blood donation, or receive irregular lab results during a routine blood test. The only way to determine whether or not you have hepatitis C is to get a blood test. This test will inform you and your doctor if you have ever been infected with the virus.
The results of the test may come back as “non-reactive or negative.” This means that you do not have hepatitis C. If the test results show “reactive or positive,” it does not always mean that you currently have hepatitis C. It simply means that hepatitis C antibodies were found in your blood which indicates you have been infected with the virus at some point. Even if you have cleared hepatitis C, you will always have antibodies in your blood. Further testing will be required to determine if you are currently infected with the virus.
Why are Baby Boomers at Risk?
It is currently believed that baby boomers are five times more likely to have hepatitis C than other adults. This may be because the transmission of hepatitis C was highest during the years spanning 1960 to 1989. During this time, universal precautions to prevent the spread of infection were not set in place, so it is possible that someone could have been infected with hepatitis C from medical equipment during procedures.
Another precaution that was put into place was the screening of blood products. By 1992, this screening process eliminated the hepatitis C virus from the blood bank, but until that point, it is possible that contaminated blood spread the infection. Those that shared needles or other equipment when injecting drugs are at high risk for hepatitis C. The exact causes that put this generation at risk is unknown–the only thing that is certain is that the hepatitis C virus is spread through contact with blood. Baby boomers and anyone who received a blood transfusion or organ donation before 1992, will benefit from hepatitis C testing. GI Associates & Endoscopy Center is prepared to analyze your risks, thoroughly test your blood, and determine a treatment plan if you test positive for hepatitis C.
Don’t wait until you show signs of liver damage before you make an appointment.