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Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that may exist in the body for
decades,without symptoms, while it slowly attacks the liver. In some cases,
hepatitis Ccan be fatal, and it's reaching epidemic proportions. Hundreds of
millions ofpeople worldwide are believed to be infected. In the United States,
it isestimated that as many as 4 million may have hepatitis C. Many are baby
boomerswho experimented with intravenous and intranasal (as in cocaine) drug use
in thelate 1960s and are just now developing symptoms.
"This is a silent epidemic because hepatitis C can remain dormant in thebody
for decades and is responsible for fewer deaths to date (8,000 to 10,000per year
in the United States) than HIV infection, it doesn't get a lot ofattention. It's
estimated that more Americans will die of hepatitis C than ofAIDS in the next
two to three decades and researchers still know relativelylittle about the
disease, which wasn't even identified until 1989.
What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, the organ that eliminates
toxinsand is important in metabolism. Other viruses, medications or overuse of
alcoholcan cause hepatitis, as well, but these are different from infection with
thehepatitis C virus. Hepatitis C is one of the three main types of viral
hepatitis(hepatitis A, B and C) in the United States.
Typically, the hepatitis C virus induces no symptoms at the time of
infectionand may take decades to do damage. Some 85 percent to 90 percent of
people whoare exposed to the hepatitis C virus develop chronic hepatitis
(chronic liverdisease). Of those, about 20 percent develop cirrhosis (scarring)
of the liver,an incurable disease. Early cirrhosis may produce no symptoms;
advancedcirrhosis may cause confusion, drowsiness, swelling of the abdomen and
legs, andred spider-like blood vessels under the skin’s surface. About half of
thosewith cirrhosis ultimately develop end-stage liver disease or liver
cancer.Hepatitis C is currently the leading indication for a liver
Who's at risk for hepatitis C?
Those who should be tested for hepatitis C include:
However, in some patients with hepatitis C, no risk factor for acquisition
For more information on Hepatitis, visit the CDC's Hepatitis Branch