Worldwide, an estimated 270 – 300 million people have hepatitis C. Testing for and reporting of the disease tend to identify far fewer infections than health officials believe exist, in part because most hepatitis C cases are asymptomatic until the late stages.
In as many as 85 percent of those infected, hepatitis C remains in the liver and can lead to cancer and cirrhosis in the long term.
Q: How Is Hepatitis C Transmitted?
Hepatitis C is passed via blood-to-blood contact, and is most commonly spread:
- From mothers to children;
- Between those who share needles for injected drugs;
- Between those who reuse tattoo or piercing needles without proper sanitation;
- Via certain medical procedures (e.g. from patient to healthcare provider);
- Through blood transfusions or organ transplants done before hepatitis C testing was common;
- By shared razors; and
- By sexual contact, though this is thought to be a rare method of transmission.
Q: How Is Hepatitis C Treated?
Hepatitis C treatment is necessary for those with the chronic form of the disease, or about 50 – 80 percent of those infected, because less than one percent of chronic sufferers have cleared the disease on their own.
New drugs approved in 2011 for treating hepatitis C should improve current rates of success in treatment – the older drugs available only succeed in about 51 percent of sufferers.
Q: What Are the Symptoms of Hepatitis C?
Unfortunately, this disease is largely asymptomatic in its early stages, which is why few people elect to get hepatitis C testing until the disease has progressed. In those who have acute hepatitis C (that is, in those recently infected), the 30 – 40 percent who display symptoms may present any of the following:
- Abdominal pain
- Flu-like symptoms.
In fact, one reason so few people get hepatitis C testing done is because its symptoms are so similar to those of the flu.
Chronic hepatitis C (when the disease is present longer than six months) usually presents no symptoms until cirrhosis or liver cancer sets in, which generally doesn’t occur until several years after infection.
Q: Is Hepatitis C an STD?
A: Current research suggests that sexual transmission of this disease is difficult. However, STD testing facilities often offer hepatitis C testing because the disease tends to affect intravenous drug users.