Approximately 2.7 million Americans have Hepatitis C (or “hep C virus” or “HCV”), according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate is so high among baby boomers that doctors urge that anyone born between 1945 and 1965 be tested.
If you test positive for Hepatitis C, you learn your genotype (genetic strain), which affects your ability to clear Hepatitis C without drugs and the effectiveness of the drugs.
About one-third of Hepatitis C victims will naturally rid themselves of the virus within six months without treatment. The remainder develop chronic Hepatitis C. Untreated, it can lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or liver cancer.
Hep C is more likely to become chronic if you have HIV or Hep B, are male, drink alcohol or are Native American or African-American.
People get Hep C from infected blood, so injection-drug users who share needles are at high risk.
You are also at risk if you received a tattoo by an artist who didn’t use clean needles or dipped into ink he used for a previous customer.
You’re not likely to get hep C by having sex with someone who has it. However, you can get a trace of contaminated blood from a shared toothbrush, manicure scissors or a razor.
One of the easiest ways to catch hep C is to frequent hospitals and clinics, where the virus can linger on equipment for weeks. “That’s why people on dialysis have higher rates; they have an increased exposure,” said Dr. Kris Kowdley, hep C researcher and hepatologist at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle.
If you received a blood transfusion before 1992, it may have infected you with hep C. That’s when blood banks started screening for it. “It was also when we went from paid blood donors — more likely to be young people in high-risk lifestyles — to volunteer donors,” said Dr. Stuart Ray, a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Most people with hep C have no symptoms present. However, some people will experience fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, and yellowing of the eyes and skin. It’s best to be tested to find out if you’ve been exposed to it, so you can be treated appropriately.
Beware of the dangers of contracting Hepatitis C