Hepatitis C is a virus that attacks the liver. According to the CDC in 2014, 30,500 people in the United States were reported to have acute hepatitis C. Approximately 75-85% of people affected by acute hepatitis C will go on to develop chronic hepatitis C. Approximately 2.7-3.9 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C. Chronic hepatitis C can lead to liver complications such as cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Today most people become infected with hepatitis C by using needles or other equipment contaminated with blood from someone with hepatitis C. In the United States, since 1992 the blood supply has been screened for hepatitis C. The risks of getting hepatitis C from a blood transfusion today is estimated to be between one in two million according to the National Institute for Health (NIH). The risk of transmission from sexual contact is believed to be low but the risk increases in people who have a sexually transmitted disease including HIV, engage in rough sex or have multiple sex partners.
The majority of people with chronic hepatitis C have no symptoms for years until the virus has damaged the liver enough to cause symptoms of liver disease. Between 5-20% of patients with chronic hepatitis C will go on to develop cirrhosis after having the virus for 20-30 years and between 1-5% of patients with chronic hepatitis C will die from cirrhosis or liver cancer.
The CDC recommends everyone born between 1945 through 1965 should be tested for hepatitis C. Persons who ever injected drugs, were treated for a blood clotting problem before 1987, received blood transfusion or organ transplant prior to July 1992, on long-term hemodialysis, or with HIV should be tested for hepatitis C. Physicians will often test for hepatitis C when liver labs are abnormal.
Unlike hepatitis A and hepatitis B, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. Persons with hepatitis C can be treated hepatitis C with a regimen tailored to them based on several factors including the type of hepatitis C virus is present. To determine the type of hepatitis C a patient has a physician will order a hepatitis C genotype. Treatment options have improved significantly in the last decade with options that are very effective and not associated with the side effects of earlier regimens.