What is it?
Hepatitis C is one of six different viruses (there is also A, B, D, E and G) that cause inflammation in the liver.
With hepatitis C virus, the body is unable to fight the infection and develop antibodies to fully recover and protect itself from future infection. As a result, most people with the disease end up with hepatitis C as a chronic condition.
What causes Hepatitis C?
It is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV) which is spread by coming in contact with the blood of someone who is already infected.
You can contract the virus by sharing drug needles or by accidentally being stuck by a needle carrying infected blood.
Babies born to mothers who are infected can also contract the disease.
What are the symptoms?
Most people with hepatitis C do not have symptoms. This is especially true early in the disease. If there are symptoms, they are usually mild and flu-like — fatigue, nausea, fever, diarrhea, lack of appetite. Some people may also have dark yellow urine, light colored stools or jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin).
How is it diagnosed?
Routine blood tests will show an elevation in certain liver enzymes. The physician can then order a specific blood test to determine if you have hepatitis C.
How is it treated?
Interferon and ribavirin are two drugs used for treatment. In patients with liver failure, a transplant may need to be considered. If you have the disease, you should avoid alcohol and discuss the use of over-the-counter medicines with your physician, both of which put extra stress on the liver.