WHAT IS HEPATITIS C?
Your liver. It’s an organ in your gut. It processes nutrients, filters toxins, and helps you fight diseases. You probably don’t think about it much! But it’s always there, quietly working away — and you want it to be working properly. Why are we talking about your liver? Because that’s the organ affected by Hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C (Hep C) is an infection that causes inflammation of the liver. Hep C can be a mild illness that only lasts a few weeks or it can be a serious, lifelong condition. But here’s the good news! Hep C is definitely curable, with treatments offering a greater than 95% cure rate.
EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT HEP C
HOW IS HEP C PASSED ON?
You can contract Hep C if the blood of someone who has already contracted Hep C enters your body.
Hep C is spread by:
- Sharing needles or straws during drug use
- Inadequate sterilization of medical equipment
- Transfusions with unscreened blood and blood products
- Unprotected sex with a Hep C carrier
- Mother to baby during pregnancy or birth (this risk is less common)
Hep C is not spread through breast milk, food, water, or casual contact such as hugging, kissing, or sharing food or drinks with a person who has Hep C.
IS HEP C AN STD?
It’s complicated. While Hep C can be spread sexually, it’s not the most common way for it to happen. That’s because it really has to be spread blood to blood. It’s not present in vaginal fluids or ejaculate (cum), so unless an infected person is bleeding and the person they’re having sex with also has an open wound, it’s pretty difficult to spread Hep C sexually.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF HEP C?
After the initial infection, Hep C incubates inside your body for anywhere from two weeks to six months. During that time, about 80% of people experience little-to-no signs that something’s wrong. Some people, however, may experience fever, fatigue, decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, grey-colored feces, joint pain, and jaundice (a yellow tint to the skin and eyes).
After it’s done incubating, Hep C can live inside your body for years before it starts showing symptoms. But when it does, symptoms of Hep C include easy bruising, easy bleeding, fatigue, low appetite, yellow discoloration in your skin and eyes, dark urine, itchy skin, fluid buildup in the abdomen and swelling in the legs, weight loss, and others. These symptoms are due to liver disease caused by the damage the infection has done to your liver. It’s important to note that these symptoms only show up if someone is untreated!
DO I NEED TO GET TESTED FOR HEP C?
Not everyone needs to get tested for Hep C. If you decide that’s the right move for you, here are DC’s testing locations, services centers, and resources for hepatitis.
IS HEP C COMMON?
Hep C infections have been decreasing over the past couple decades, thanks to improved public health efforts and programs like needle exchanges. However, because it doesn’t usually show symptoms until a person already has liver failure, there are still a bunch of people who have it and don’t know.
WHAT’S A HEP C TEST LIKE?
Testing for Hep C has three parts. In the first part, your health care provider will screen for Hep C antibodies, in order to see if you’ve been exposed to the virus. If that comes back positive, they’ll then test your viral load, which shows whether or not you actually have the virus — or if you’ve just been exposed. And then if that test is positive, they’ll do a genotype test to figure out what strain of Hep C you have, so you can get started on treatment.
For more information about Hep C testing — and what antibodies are — check out this explanation from HepMag.com.
HOW IS HEP C TREATED?
Remember how we said Hep C is almost always curable? That’s because people who have been diagnosed with Hep C can take a daily antiviral pill for three to four months. In most people, the virus will be undetectable within four to 12 weeks. You’re considered cured when it’s been undetectable for 12 to 24 weeks.
CAN HEP C COME BACK?
Once you’ve cleared the virus for 24 weeks, the chances of Hep C recurring are basically zero. Awesome!