May is Hepatitis Awareness Month and a good time to find out how to confirm the symptoms of hepatitis C — the most common form. Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver that often develops from a virus, and viral hepatitis is a leading cause of liver disease around the world.
There are five hepatitis viruses:
- Hepatitis A virus (HAV)
- Hepatitis B virus
- Hepatitis C virus (HCV)
- Hepatitis D virus
- Hepatitis E virus
They all have similar symptoms, but some forms can become chronic and lead to life-threatening complications.
Hepatitis A is one of the two most common forms, but hopefully, not for long. About 1.5 million people contract acute viral hepatitis globally each year. But the World Health Organization (WHO) hopes to eliminate viral hepatitis as a major public health threat by 2030.
A successful hepatitis B campaign by the World Health Organization is resulting in some encouraging statistics. Prevention measures such as hepatitis B vaccination and blood safety are being credited with significantly decreasing the number of cases.
Hepatitis C, however, remains a viable threat to public health. About 130 to 150 million people around the world are living with chronic HCV.
Five facts about hepatitis C you may not know
1. Hepatitis C virus is spread through contaminated blood.
These days, we’re a lot more careful with how we handle blood, needles and transfusions, but that wasn’t always the case. Baby Boomers born between 1945 and 1965 are at a greater risk of contracting hep C. In fact, 75 percent of people who have the infection are Boomers. Why? Back then, there was no protocol or screening method to make sure the blood supply was virus-free. Other people at a higher risk include those who have shared needles or paraphernalia for snorting, injecting or inhaling drugs; healthcare workers who were exposed to contaminated blood; people who received a piercing or tattoo using unclean equipment; people who received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992; and those who have been on hemodialysis treatment for a long period of time. People with HIV may also have a higher risk.
2. Hep C is usually a hidden infection for many years.
In fact, the majority of people who have it won’t notice any symptoms at all until liver damage occurs. Signs of liver disease include:
- bruising and/or bleeding easily
- poor appetite
- dark-colored urine
- itchy skin
- swelling in the legs
- weight loss
- fluid build-up in the abdomen
- spider-like blood vessels in the skin.
For those who do experience symptoms, they usually occur between two to 12 weeks after exposure but can take as long as 26 weeks to appear.
3. Hep C is the No. 1 cause of liver cancer and liver transplants.
This makes it that much more important to get tested if you are experiencing symptoms.
4. Blood tests can show whether you have been exposed if your doctor suspects you have hep C.
This includes a rapid test that gives results in less than 20 minutes.
5. Hep C treatment used to be painful and wasn’t always effective.
But huge advancements have been made in the treatment of hepatitis C in recent years, and it’s now considered largely curable with a 12-week regimen of oral combination drugs.
The main goal of Hepatitis Awareness Month is to increase awareness, but if you’re aiming to increase your chances of preventing hepatitis altogether, you can take part in National Hepatitis Testing Day on May 19. It’s an effort by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to get everyone tested. A blood test is the most accurate way to confirm the symptoms of hepatitis.
Many people can live for years, and even decades with the virus without symptoms or feeling sick — but it can significantly increase the risk for cirrhosis, liver fibrosis, liver cancer, and death if left untreated.
You can also go talk to your doctor about testing for hepatitis. A simple blood test will tell you everything you need to know. You can request your appointment today. A quick consultation will also tell you what else you can do to protect your liver.