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Anyone can get hepatitis C

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PORTLAND -

Having a chronic hepatitis C infection can affect a person’s day-to-day life more than you may expect. Hepatitis C is the most common blood-borne virus in the United States, with more than 4 million people infected with the disease.

Hepatitis C is spread by blood-to-blood contact, primarily through injectable drug use. There are immunizations against hepatitis A and B, but not for C. In order to prevent becoming infected with the hepatitis C virus, it is necessary to prevent exposure. If after being infected, a person did not naturally clear the virus in six months, the infection would become chronic and only curable with medication. There are medications in pill form to treat chronic hepatitis C infection. 

 Standard treatment only cures about 45% of patients. Thanks to new medications, more people with hepatitis C will be cured. The risk of untreated chronic infection is scarring, cirrhosis, cancer of the liver, and in some cases, death.

How could I get hepatitis C?

You could get hepatitis C through contact with an infected person’s blood. This contact could occur by being born to a mother with hepatitis C, getting an accidental stick with a needle that was used on an infected person, having unprotected sex with an infected person, having contact with blood or open sores of an infected person, sharing drug needles or other drug materials with an infected person, being tattooed or pierced with unsterilized tools that were used on an infected person, using an infected person’s razor, toothbrush, or nail clippers, receiving a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992.

Symptoms: Long-term infection with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) 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. Among these signs and symptoms are:

  • 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
  • Weight loss
  • Confusion, drowsiness and slurred speech (hepatic encephalopathy)
  • Spider-like blood vessels on your skin (spider angiomas)

Hepatitis C treatments have changed a lot in recent years. In January 2016, the FDA gave approval to a once-daily pill combination of elbasvir and grazoprevir called Zepatier. It has been shown to have the ability to cure the disease in almost 100% of those treated. It follows the success of another once-daily treatment called Harvoni that cures the disease in most people in 8-12 weeks. Harvoni combines two drugs: sofosbuvir (Sovaldi) and ledipasvir. In clinical trials, the most common side effects of both drugs were fatigue and headache.

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