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Facts about hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C is a disease caused by a virus that affects the liver. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 3.5 million people in the United States have hepatitis C. However, more than half of the people who are infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) may not know it. Hepatitis C is most common in people born between 1945 and 1965 – 75 percent of infected people are in this age group.[1]

In its early stages, hepatitis C causes mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. It may be decades before liver damage starts and the disease is diagnosed through medical tests. If left untreated, hepatitis C infection can lead to serious health problems, including:

  • Cirrhosis, which causes scarring of the liver
  • Liver cancer, which can happen after the development of cirrhosis
  • Liver failure, in which the liver is no longer able to function

There are two types of hepatitis C infection – acute and chronic.

  • Acute infections last up to six months and sometimes go away on their own
  • Chronic infections last longer than six months and do not go away without treatment

How HCV affects the liver.

To better understand how hepatitis C affects the liver, it helps to have an understanding of how the liver works. The liver is one of the most important organs in the body – people can’t live without a functioning liver. The liver’s main functions are:

  • Filtering the blood, breaking down substances that may be harmful, and removing waste
  • Storing nutrients, including fats and sugars, and releasing them when the body needs them
  • Producing chemicals the body needs to heal from injuries and digest food

When HCV infects the liver, it causes inflammation. Over time, this inflammation makes it harder and harder for the liver to perform these functions, causing symptoms like pain, fatigue, nausea and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). If left untreated, it can cause the more serious health problems listed above.

How did I get hepatitis C?

There are many ways HCV is passed from person to person, including:

  • Injecting drugs and/or sharing needles
  • Getting a tattoo or piercing in an unsterile environment
  • Accidental exposure to an infected person’s blood, such as needle sticks in a health care setting
  • Receiving a blood transfusion or an organ transplant before July 1992
  • Receiving a blood product before 1987
  • Being infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

How can I avoid passing it on to others?

It’s important to know that there are ways to prevent passing HCV on to others.

  • Don’t share needles or supplies to inject medicines, illegal drugs or steroids
  • Don’t share any personal items that may have blood on them, like razors, nail clippers, toothbrushes, toothpicks and diabetes supplies (lancets or glucose meters)
  • Don’t donate blood
  • Cover all open cuts and wounds, and clean areas that may have blood on them

Remember, you can pass the virus on to another person while you’re receiving treatment. Also, people who have had hepatitis C in the past can be infected again.

Treatments are available.

The good news is that new treatments are available that can eliminate HCV from the body, allowing the liver to heal and preventing serious complications.

If you have questions about your hepatitis C treatment, talk to your doctor or call our CVS Specialty CareTeam at 1-800-237-2767.

This information is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Talk to your doctor or health care provider about your medical condition and prior to starting any new treatment. CVS Specialty assumes no liability whatsoever for the information provided or for any diagnosis or treatment made as a result, nor is it responsible for the reliability of the content.

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1. American Liver Foundation Website. Accessed October 9, 2018.