Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by a virus that causes inflammation. It is contagious and people get it when it is passed on when an infected person’s blood enters their body. This usually happens when people share needles when using illegal drugs like heroin. Most people don’t have any signs or symptoms, and therefore are unaware they even have it until it causes liver damage. The infection can progress for many years and cause life-threatening complications like cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure. There are about 2.7 million people in the United States that are infected with hepatitis C.
The liver is one of the most important organs in our bodies. It is also the second largest organ in the body, one of the hardest working organs in our bodies, and functions in performing a number of different essential tasks. The liver is responsible for processing everything we consume; it decides what nutrients will be distributed throughout the body, which it must get rid of, and what isn’t allowed in.
Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus. The virus is spread when a person’s blood is exposed to blood contaminated with the virus. Hepatitis C symptoms include fatigue, weakness, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, dark urine and light colored stools, liver pain, fever, or headache.
Risk factors for hepatitis C:
· Were born between 1945 and 1965 (the age group with the highest incidence of hepatitis C infection)
· Are a health care worker who has been exposed to infected blood, such as may happen if an infected needle pierces your skin
· Received a piercing or tattoo in an unclean environment using unsterile equipment
· Have served time in prison
· Received hemodialysis treatments for a long period of time
· Received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992
· Have HIV
· Have ever injected or inhaled illicit drugs
· Were born to a woman with a hepatitis C infection
· Received clotting factor concentrates before 1987
Long-term side effects for hepatitis C include cirrhosis and liver cancer. Hepatitis C damages the liver cells, which are then replaced by scar tissue. When scar tissue forms in the liver, there is a higher risk for developing liver cancer. According to the CDC, cirrhosis will develop in 5 to 20 people out of 100 infected people over the course of 20 to 30 years. Hepatitis C is also a major risk factor for a type of liver cancer called hepatocellular carcinoma. Hepatocellular carcinoma is the fifth most common cancer in the world and a major cause of death in people who have chronic hepatitis C.