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What is hepatitis C (HCV)?
Hepatitis is a viral infection of the liver. The most common types are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. Each type is caused by a different virus. Hepatitis C virus (HCV) can be spread through blood or bodily fluids, and can range in length and severity from short-term and mild to long-term and damaging. In the United States, it is most commonly transmitted through sharing of needles (intravenous drug use). It can also be passed from mother to child during birth. Less commonly, it spreads by sexual contact. Hepatitis C cannot be transmitted through touching an infected person or by way of food and water. Unlike hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccination against HCV.
Symptoms of HCV
Many people who are infected with HCV don't know that they're infected because they don't have any symptoms at first. If the condition goes undiagnosed and untreated, however, it can do serious, long-term damage to the liver, possibly leading to cirrhosis, liver cancer, and even death. For those who have symptoms, these may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Jaundice (yellowing of eyes or skin)
Diagnosis and testing of HCV
Since these symptoms are shared by many other conditions, it may be difficult to self-diagnose. If you are at risk for HCV or think you may have been exposed, be sure to visit a doctor. The doctor will perform a physical exam and review your medical history. Your doctor may also recommend blood tests to determine the presence of antibodies (immune proteins) to HCV. HCV is treatable with preventive measures, to protect against future infection, and oral medications.