The Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is spread by direct contact with an infected person's blood. The symptoms of the hepatitis C virus can be very similar to those of the hepatitis A and B viruses. However, infection with HCV can lead to chronic liver disease and is the leading reason for liver transplant in the United States.
The Hepatitis C Virus can be spread by:
- Sharing drug needles
- Getting a tattoo or body piercing with unsterilized tools
- Blood transfusions (especially ones that occurred before 1992; since then the U.S. blood supply has been routinely screened for the disease)
- Transmission from mother to newborn
- Sexual contact (although this is less common)
Hepatitis C is also a common threat in kidney dialysis centers. Rarely, people living with an infected person can contract the disease by sharing items that might contain that person's blood, such as razors or toothbrushes.
Signs and Symptoms
Hepatitis, in its early stages, may cause flu-like symptoms, including:
- Malaise (a general ill feeling)
- Muscle aches
- Loss of appetite
- Jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
But some people with hepatitis may have no symptoms at all and may not even know they're infected. Children with hepatitis A, for example, usually have mild symptoms or have no symptoms.
If hepatitis progresses, its symptoms begin to point to the liver as the source of illness. Chemicals normally secreted by the liver begin to build up in the blood, which causes
- Foul breath
- A bitter taste in the mouth
- Dark or "tea-colored" urine
- White, light, or "clay-colored" stools
There can also be abdominal pain, which may be centered below the right ribs (over a tender, swollen liver) or below the left ribs (over a tender spleen).
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