Hepatitis C is a chronic liver disease that often goes undetected for decades. People can be infected with hepatitis C and have no symptoms for years while damage is being done to their liver and they unknowingly spread the disease to others.
We can’t feel our livers and don’t often think about our livers, but they are important and we cannot live without them. Livers are powerhouses, helping us to digest our food, store vitamins and minerals, filter our blood and help to manufacture blood cells and proteins.
At present there is no vaccine for hepatitis C like there is for hepatitis B and hepatitis A. If someone does have symptoms they may experience fatigue, loss of appetite, sore muscles and joints, nausea, and abdominal pain. Some people may develop jaundice which is a yellow look to the whites of their eyes and skin. But many people have no symptoms.
Hepatitis C is spread through contact with infected blood. Even the smallest amounts of blood that you may not be able to see can transmit the virus. This is why health professionals need to take special precautions when dealing with blood and why universal precautions should be observed. Yale researchers found that the hepatitis C virus could live on surfaces for up to six weeks at room temperature (39.2 to 71.6 Fahrenheit).
You may be at risk if you have ever shared needles or equipment for drug use, had a tattoo, piercing or acupuncture with unsterile equipment, shared sharp personal care items with an infected person, been exposed to medical or dental procedures using unsterile equipment, been born to a mother with hepatitis C, engaged in unprotected risky sexual behaviour with an infected partner that includes contact with blood, been pricked with a needle that had infected blood on it or had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before blood was screened in 1992. While anyone can get hepatitis C, three in four people with hepatitis C were born from 1945–1965 when sharing of drug equipment was common, and there were no universal precautions or screening of the blood supply.
The most common cases of transmission occur in needle-sticks with hollow-bore needles. Of those who contract hepatitis C, 25 percent will clear it from there bodies. The other 75 percent of those infected will go on to develop chronic disease. It is a slow moving disease and many people will not develop symptoms for 20 years. In that time there can be scarring (fibrosis) of the liver from inflammation that affects how it works. Scarring can lead to cirrhosis and make the liver more susceptible to cancer. Lifestyle can affect how quickly hepatitis C progresses. The good news is that once diagnosed there is new treatment for hepatitis C that is very effective.