Which Age Groups are Most Likely to Have Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a viral infection which can affect people of any age or sex. With the opioid crisis, we are seeing more young people becoming infected with hepatitis C. This also causes an increase in babies with hepatitis C being born to mothers who have hepatitis C.
Since mid-1992, the measures to screen blood for hepatitis C and other viral infections have limited infections from blood and organ donation. However, other means of transmitting the virus still exist.
Ways hepatitis C is transmitted
Hepatitis C can be passed from person to person through:
- Infected blood particles on toothbrushes, nail clippers, razors, and personal items
- Blood and body fluids (vomit, semen, vaginal discharge) that are infected with hep C comes in contact with an open wound
- A needle-stick from someone who is infected
- Re-used needles from injecting drugs or from equipment used in inhaling drugs
- Unsterile needles or equipment used in tattoo parlors and body piercing
- Unprotected sex if blood-to-blood contact occurs
- From contact with dried blood infected with hepatitis C
Acute versus chronic hepatitis C
If a person is infected with hepatitis C, they can either have an acute or chronic infection. An acute infection is one that lasts less than 6 months. In 20 to 25% percent of cases, the body can sometimes rid itself of the hepatitis C virus in a short period of time, without treatment. However, 75% of people infected with hepatitis C develop a chronic (long-lasting) condition.
Dangers of hepatitis C
Chronic hepatitis C can be active in the body for years without symptoms, all while liver damage is being done. Chronic hep C makes you more at risk for cirrhosis (severe scarring), liver cancer, and liver failure. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplants in the U.S.
Hepatitis C is known as the “silent disease” due to symptoms that don’t often show up for a long period of time. Common symptoms include fatigue, general unwell or run-down feeling, fever, flu-like symptoms (often with nausea, vomiting, and/or lack of appetite), jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), discomfort or pain on the right side under the ribcage, dark urine, and/or greyish color stools.
What to do
If you have symptoms or know you have risk factors, seek testing. Seek the care of a doctor who specializes in liver disease like a hepatologist, gastroenterologist or infectious disease doctor. Seek treatment. There are a variety of treatment options available for those with all genotypes (virus strains), liver conditions, and ages. Don’t assume you don’t have hepatitis C. Talk to your doctor about testing, no matter what age you are. Testing and early treatment can save lives.