Since 2011, significant advances in the treatment of hepatitis C infections have paved the way for 99% cure rates regardless of the duration of infection, fibrosis status, dialysis status, transplant and/or HIV status.
At the UofL Health Hep C Center, we provide compassionate care, advocacy, access to curative hepatitis C treatments, liver assessment with Fibroscan and world-class specialty pharmacy services located in a newly remodeled center designed especially for our patients.
There is no longer a need to worry about liver biopsies, interferon side effects or stigma. All hepatitis C infected patients benefit from a referral to our center, regardless of age and active or recent drug/alcohol use.
What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes liver inflammation, sometimes leading to serious liver damage. The hepatitis C virus (HCV) spreads through contaminated blood. Chronic Hepatitis C is a serious disease that can result in long-term health problems, including liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer or even death. It is the leading cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation in the United States. Approximately 19,000 people die every year from hepatitis C-related liver disease.
Until recently, hepatitis C treatment required weekly injections and oral medications that many HCV-infected people couldn't take because of other health problems or unacceptable side effects.
That's changing. Today, chronic HCV is usually curable with oral medications taken every day for two to six months.
Still, about half of people with HCV don't know they're infected, mainly because they have no symptoms, which can take decades to appear. For that reason, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all adults ages 18 to 79 years be screened for hepatitis C, even those without symptoms or known liver disease. The largest group at risk includes everyone born between 1945 and 1965 — a population five times more likely to be infected than those born in other years.
Who is at Risk?
Some people are at increased risk for hepatitis C, including:
- Current injection drug users (currently the most common way hepatitis C virus is spread in the United States)
- Past injection drug users, including those who injected only one time or many years ago
- Recipients of donated blood, blood products and organs (once a common means of transmission but now rare in the United States since blood screening became available in 1992)
- People who received a blood product for clotting problems made before 1987
- Hemodialysis patients or persons who spent many years on dialysis for kidney failure
- People who received body piercing or tattoos done with non-sterile instruments
- People with known exposures to the hepatitis C virus, such as:
- Health care workers injured by needle sticks
- Recipients of blood or organs from a donor who tested positive for the hepatitis C virus
- HIV-infected persons
- Children born to mothers infected with the hepatitis C virus
Can you get hepatitis C by getting a tattoo or piercing?
A few major research studies have not shown hepatitis C to be spread through licensed, commercial tattooing facilities. However, the transmission of hepatitis C (and other infectious diseases) is possible when poor infection-control practices are used during tattooing or piercing. Body art is becoming increasingly popular in the United States, and unregulated tattooing and piercing are known to occur in prisons and other informal or unregulated settings. Further research is needed to determine if these types of settings and exposures are responsible for hepatitis C virus transmission.
Who should get tested for hepatitis C?
Talk to your doctor about being tested for hepatitis C if any of the following are true:
- You were born from 1945 through 1965
- You are a current or former injection drug user, even if you injected only one time or many years ago
- You were treated for a blood clotting problem before 1987
- You received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992
- You are on the long-term hemodialysis treatment
- You have abnormal liver tests or liver disease
- You work in health care or public safety and were exposed to blood through a needle stick or other sharp object injury
- You are infected with HIV or hepatitis B.
Approximately 70%–80% of people with acute hepatitis C do not have any symptoms. Some people, however, can have mild to severe symptoms soon after being infected, including:
- Bleeding easily
- Bruising easily
- Poor appetite
- Yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Dark-colored urine
- Itchy skin
- Fluid buildup in your abdomen (ascites)
- Swelling in your legs
- Weight loss
- Confusion, drowsiness and slurred speech (hepatic encephalopathy)
- Spiderlike blood vessels on your skin (spider angiomas)
Chronic hepatitis C infection can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer, liver failure and death. However, it can be cured.
Chronic and Acute Hepatitis C
Every chronic hepatitis C infection starts with an acute phase. Acute hepatitis C usually goes undiagnosed because it rarely causes symptoms. When signs and symptoms are present, they may include jaundice, along with fatigue, nausea, fever and muscle aches. Acute symptoms appear one to three months after exposure to the virus and last two weeks to three months.
Acute hepatitis C infection doesn't always become chronic. Some people clear HCV from their bodies after the acute phase, an outcome known as spontaneous viral clearance. In studies of people diagnosed with acute HCV, rates of spontaneous viral clearance have varied from 15% to 25%. Acute hepatitis C also responds well to antiviral therapy.
Cost, Referrals, and Contact
Concerned about cost? Treatment is covered by Medicare, Medicaid and most commercial insurance plans with little out-of-pocket costs.