Facts About Hepatitis C Virus Infection
Millions of Americans are infected with the hepatitis C virus, but many of them don’t know it. It is possible to have chronic (long-term) hepatitis C infection but not to develop any symptoms for decades.
Over time, hepatitis C infection can lead to cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, end-stage liver disease, and liver cancer. In the United States, chronic hepatitis C infection is a leading cause of liver disease and liver transplants. Each year, more than 15,000 people in the United States are thought to die of complications from chronic hepatitis C infection.
The most important risk factor for hepatitis C infection is the use of injection drugs. Other risk factors include having had a blood transfusion before 1992, having multiple sex partners, and getting a tattoo with an unsterilized needle.
Screening and Treatment for Hepatitis C Infection Hepatitis C screening involves testing a blood sample to see whether it contains antibodies (disease-fighting proteins) that react specifically to the hepatitis C virus. This test is followed by a second test that determines the level of virus in the blood. When used together, these two tests accurately identify whether a person has hepatitis C infection.
For some people, once hepatitis C infection is identified it can be successfully treated with medicines to get rid of the virus.
The goal of treatment is to prevent long-term damage to the liver from the infection.
In the past few years, diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis C infection has greatly improved. This makes it more valuable to identify the infection so that a person can start treatment, if necessary. Not everyone who is infected with the hepatitis C virus needs immediate treatment. Many people without signs of liver damage can be monitored and treated only if the virus becomes active.