Understanding Hepatitis C Virus
Contracted via blood-to-blood contact, hepatitis C is an infection caused by a virus that attacks the liver and leads to inflammation. Many people infected with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) have no symptoms. In fact, most people do not know they have the hepatitis C infection until liver damage shows up decades later.
People who have a high risk of having hepatitis C and may want to ask their doctor about getting testing include:
- Anyone born between 1945 to 1965
- Anyone with curent or past injection drug use or intranasal drug use
- People exposed to unsanitary piercing or tattoo equipment
- Healthcare and emergency workers who have been exposed to blood or accidental needle sticks
- People with hemophilia who were treated with clotting factors before 1987
- People who received blood transfusions or organ transplants before 1992
- People with HIV infection
- People who were in jail or prison
- Anyone with unexplained chronic liver disease and chronic hepatitis, including increased liver function tests
Complications of Chronic HCV
Hepatitis C infection that continues over many years can cause significant complications, such as:
- Scarring of the liver tissue (cirrhosis) After 20 to 30 years of hepatitis C infection, cirrhosis may occur for a portion of patients. Scarring in the liver makes it difficult for the liver to function.
- Liver cancer – A small number of people with hepatitis C infection may develop liver cancer.
- Liver failure – A small number of people may have a liver that is severely damaged by hepatitis C and may be unable to function adequately.
- Portal hypertension – Some people may have an increase in the pressure within the portal vein due to blockage of blood flow throughout the liver. The increased pressure causes the development of large, swollen veins (varices) which can rupture easily, resulting in a large amount of blood loss and can be potentially life-threatening. Portal hypertension can also lead to enlargement of the spleen and accumulation of fluid in the abdomen.
- In addition, the liver can also lose its ability to remove waste products from the blood.