UNDERSTANDING HEPATITIS C

Knowing the facts about hepatitis C (Hep C) can help you better understand how it affects your liver—and may also help you make more informed decisions about your treatment options as you start working with a Hep C Specialist.

The good news is: Hep C can be cured.

Many people are surprised by a Hep C diagnosis. The good news is that recent scientific advances have made treatments for Hep C shorter and more effective, with fewer side effects than previously, and average cure rates around 95%.

Cure means the Hep C virus is not detected in the blood
3 months after treatment is completed.

WE’RE HERE TO HELP.

Call 844-9-HEPCHOPE to speak with a Hep C Educator or sign up below.

Get helpful information, a Hep C Specialist appointment guide, and facts about managing Hep C.

WHAT IS HEP C?

Hep C is a contagious liver disease that can lead to serious problems including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer.

Hep C can either be acute or chronic:

  • Acute Hep C lasts a short time and occurs within the first 6 months of exposure to the Hep C virus. In some cases, the body can get rid of the virus on its own. If not, the infection will become chronic.
  • Chronic Hep C is serious and long lasting. For most people with Hep C (75%-85%), an acute infection becomes chronic.

There are 2 other types of hepatitis: A and B. Hepatitis A, B, and C all cause inflammation or swelling of the liver, but each is a different virus. There are vaccines for Hep A and B, but there is no vaccine for Hep C.

Chronic Hep C can cause:

  • A shorter lifespan:

    In 2007, Hep C patients died at a median age of 57. That’s 20 years shorter than the average US lifespan.

  • Serious liver disease (cirrhosis):

    A recent study projects that about 45% of untreated patients would develop cirrhosis by 2030. Cirrhosis can lead to liver cancer.

  • Cancer and transplants:

    Hep C is the leading cause of liver cancer and liver transplants.

LIVER CANCER ON THE RISE

From 1990 to 2015, deaths from liver cancer in the US have increased by 60%, while deaths from other cancers have decreased. Hep C is the leading cause of liver cancer.

Deaths from cancer, 1990-2015

HOW HEP C AFFECTS THE LIVER

The liver is one of the largest organs in your body, and one of the most important. It works in many ways to keep you healthy.

Some of its most important jobs are:

  • Storing nutrients from food and releasing them into the bloodstream when needed
  • Helping to manage blood clotting
  • Breaking down alcohol and drugs, and removing waste from the blood
  • Producing bile to help digest fats

When you have Hep C, it starts to damage the liver right away, even if you have no symptoms.

It begins by causing inflammation (swelling) of the liver. Over time, that causes scarring (fibrosis). When scarring progresses, it can become severe and block blood flow. At this point, it is called cirrhosis of the liver. Cirrhosis keeps the liver from working as it should, and may even cause permanent damage. The amount of damage in the liver is measured by a fibrosis score.

It’s important to keep in mind that the sooner Hep C is treated, the better the chances are for being cured.

THINGS THAT CAN SPEED UP LIVER DAMAGE

The rate at which Hep C progresses is different for each person. By the time symptoms appear, liver damage is often already advanced. Many factors can affect how quickly Hep C progresses, such as:

  • Alcohol use
  • Age
  • Weight
  • Having HIV or AIDS
LEARN ABOUT HEP C IN DAILY LIFE >

SYMPTOMS OF HEP C

Hep C is a silent disease—many people feel few or no symptoms for years, but the virus never stands still. By the time symptoms do show up, liver damage is often advanced. Do not wait for symptoms to appear before seeking treatment.

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Dark urine
  • Gray-colored bowel movements
  • Joint pain

Get the most out of your appointment with this handy guide.

WHO’S AT RISK FOR HEP C?

1 in 30 Baby Boomers has Hep C—that’s why the CDC recommends that all people born 1945–1965 get tested.

The people at highest risk include:

  • Baby Boomers (born 1945–1965)
  • Vietnam-era veterans
  • People born to a mother with Hep C

Hep C is a blood-borne virus, spread by blood-to-blood contact. Even a very small amount of infected blood that cannot be seen can transmit the virus.

There are many ways Hep C can be spread, including:

  • Recreational drugs that involve needles or straws
  • Sharing personal care items like razors or toothbrushes
  • Needlestick injuries in healthcare settings
  • Sexual contact with a person infected with the hepatitis C virus
  • Getting a tattoo with unsterilized equipment
  • Received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992, or had long-term kidney dialysis

These activities do not spread Hep C:

  • Hugging
  • Sneezing
  • Kissing
  • Sharing food, beverages, and eating or drinking utensils
  • Coughing

HOW IS HEP C DIAGNOSED?

There are 2 simple blood tests for Hep C.

  • The Antibody Test shows whether you have ever been exposed to the Hep C virus.
  • The Viral Load Test (also known as the HCV-RNA test) can tell if the virus is currently in your blood, and how much of it you have (your viral load). This test can confirm your diagnosis and is also used to monitor your progress as you undergo treatment.

These tests are not part of the routine blood work you normally get from your healthcare provider. Your Hep C Specialist may run additional tests after diagnosis.

MEASURING LIVER DAMAGE

Knowing the extent of fibrosis (scarring) in your liver can help your Specialist determine the best treatment for you. The result is called your fibrosis score, and there are different methods for measuring this:

  • Blood tests
  • Ultrasound
  • Liver biopsy

Scores from these tests are numbered 0-4:

F0(None)

The liver is healthy

F1(Mild Fibrosis)

Early stages of liver damage with slight scarring

F2(Moderate Fibrosis)

Scar tissue starts to form

F3(Severe Fibrosis)

Blood flow in the liver has been affected

F4(Cirrhosis)

There is so much scar tissue that the liver is not able to work as it should

FINDING OUT YOUR GENOTYPE

Hep C Genotypes in the US

  • 75.8% GT 1
  • 12% GT 2
  • 10.4% GT 3
  • 1.9% GT 4,5,6
Data from Messina et al/Global Dist and Prev of HCV Gentoypes 2015

Once you’ve been diagnosed with Hep C, your Specialist will find out which type you have. There are 6 main types of the Hep C virus, each with its own unique genetic makeup called a “genotype.” Genotype 1 is the most common type in the United States. Your Hep C Specialist can identify your specific genotype through a blood test. Treatments are available for every genotype and all of them can be cured.

HOW DO I FIND A HEP C SPECIALIST?

You can ask your regular healthcare provider to refer you to a Hep C Specialist, or use the tool below to find one in your area.

CAN HEP C BE CURED?

Yes, it can. Recent scientific advances have led to significant progress in treating Hep C.

Hep C treatments today are shorter and more effective than before.

WE’RE HERE TO HELP.

Call 844-9-HEPCHOPE to speak with a Hep C Educator or sign up below.

Get helpful information, a Hep C Specialist appointment guide, and facts about managing Hep C.

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If you have any questions, our Hep C Educators can help. Call 844-9-HEPCHOPE to speak with one.

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