HEPATITIS C

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes liver inflammation, sometimes leading to serious liver damage. The hepatitis C virus (HCV) spreads through contaminated blood.

Symptoms

Long-term infection with the hepatitis C virus is known as chronic hepatitis C. Chronic hepatitis C is usually a “silent” infection for many years, until the virus damages the liver enough to cause the signs and symptoms of liver disease.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Bleeding easily
  • Bruising easily
  • Fatigue
  • Poor appetite
  • Yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Itchy skin
  • Fluid buildup in your abdomen (ascites)
  • Swelling in your legs
  • grey-coloured faeces
  • Weight loss
  • Confusion, drowsiness and slurred speech

It is not usually easy to diagnose hepatitis at an early stage as it presents little or no symptoms; yearly screening of hepatitis is therefore important.

Transmission

The hepatitis C virus is a blood borne virus. It is most commonly transmitted through:

  • injecting drug use through the sharing of injection equipment;
  • the reuse or inadequate sterilization of medical equipment, especially syringes and needles in healthcare settings;
  • the transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products;
  • sexual practices that lead to exposure to blood (for example, among men who have sex with men, particularly those with HIV infection).
  • Hepatitis C virus can also be transmitted sexually and can be passed from an infected mother to her baby; however, these modes of transmission are less common.

Hepatitis C is not spread through breast milk, food, water or casual contact such as hugging, kissing and sharing food or drinks with an infected person.

Risk factors

Your risk of hepatitis C infection is increased if you:

  • Are a health care worker who has been exposed to infected blood, which may happen if an infected needle pierces your skin
  • Have ever injected or inhaled illicit drugs
  • Have HIV
  • Received a piercing or tattoo in an unclean environment using unsterile equipment
  • Received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before.
  • Were born to a woman with a hepatitis C infection
  • Were born between 1945 and 1965, the age group with the highest incidence of hepatitis C infection

 

Complications

Hepatitis C infection that continues over many years can cause significant complications, such as:

  • Scarring of the liver (cirrhosis). After decades of hepatitis C infection, cirrhosis may occur. Scarring in your liver makes it difficult for your liver to function.
  • Liver cancer. A small number of people with hepatitis C infection may develop liver cancer.
  • Liver failure. Advanced cirrhosis may cause your liver to stop functioning.

 

Normal liver vs. liver cirrhosis

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