When hepatitis C is not treated, it can have serious consequences for your health and wellness – but hepatitis C is treatable. Most people can be cured within 8-12 weeks.
Hepatitis C is the most common blood-borne infection in the United States and in the past 10 years, rates of infection have increased dramatically among every age group. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 2.4 million Americans are living with hepatitis C. When hepatitis C is not treated, it can have serious consequences for your health and wellness, but hepatitis C is treatable. Most people can be cured within 8-12 weeks.
Learn more about hepatitis C, its symptoms, your risk of contracting it, and what treatment and resources are available to support you.
What Is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne infection – meaning when you have contact with blood infected with the hepatitis C virus, you can contract a hepatitis C infection.
Some people can become infected with the virus and fight it off, only experiencing a short-term illness, but according to the CDC, more than half of the people who become infected will develop a long-term chronic infection. If the infection is not treated, it can result in serious, life-threatening health problems like cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Am I At Risk of Contracting Hepatitis C?
Infections occur when you’re exposed to blood infected with hepatitis C. Today, the most common way people become infected with the hepatitis C virus is by sharing needles or other equipment used to prepare and inject drugs, but there are other ways you can contract the virus, including:
- Through birth – mothers infected with hepatitis C can pass it on to their babies
- During unprotected sex
- Through sharing personal items such as nail clippers, razors or toothbrushes
- By getting a tattoo in an unlicensed or unregulated place, where someone may use nonsterile instruments
- Through exposure during health care, including if you received a blood transfusion or an organ donation before the widespread screening of blood supplies (1992)
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Veterans enrolled in VA health care have a higher rate (5.4%) of hepatitis C infections, compared to the rest of the U.S. population (1.8%). This could be for a number of reasons, including coming into contact with blood or blood spatter during combat, receiving a transfusion during a medical procedure before the widespread screening of blood or sharing razors or other personal items during Service.
What Are the Symptoms of Hepatitis C?
Most people carry the virus for years without any symptoms at all. If symptoms are present, they are often very mild. Symptoms may include:
- Abdominal discomfort, including loss of appetite or vomiting
- Fatigue or weakness
- Joint pain
- A yellowish coloring in your eyes or skin
- Dark-colored urine
Because most people who are infected do not feel sick until the later stages of the disease, it’s extremely important to get tested.
Should I Get Tested for Hepatitis C?
Yes. Getting tested is the only way to know if you have hepatitis C. VA recommends testing for all people, including Veterans, between the ages of 18-79. The CDC provides additional testing recommendations as well, which include:
- Every adult at least once
- Pregnant women during every pregnancy
- People with ongoing risk factors on a regular basis, such as anyone who injects drugs
The test is a simple blood test that detects the presence of hepatitis C. It is available to any Veteran enrolled in VA health care and can also be done by your local pharmacy.
If you test positive, you can work with your health care provider to begin treatment, which can cure most people within 8-12 weeks. It is extremely important to begin treatment right away and cure the infection before it progresses to advanced liver disease.
Can Hepatitis C Be Treated and Cured?
Yes. Hepatitis C is curable. VA has cured more than 100,000 cases of hepatitis C since 2014 using oral medications. These drugs have extremely high success rates with most people being cured within 8-12 weeks.
When hepatitis C isn’t diagnosed and treated, it can cause serious health complications, such as cirrhosis or scarring of the liver, liver cancer and even death. It is the most common reason for liver transplantation in the United States. About 19,000 people die each year from liver disease related to hepatitis C, according to VA.
Can Hepatitis C Be Prevented?
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, but there are ways to reduce your risk.
- Avoid sharing or reusing needles, syringes or any other equipment used to prepare or inject drugs, steroids or other substances.
- Do not share personal items such as toothbrushes, razors or nail clippers (these items may contain infected blood in amounts too small to even see).
- Avoid getting tattoos or body piercings from unlicensed or informal places.
What Resources Are Available?
- VA has treated and cured more hepatitis C patients than any other health care system in the country and offers a wealth of information and resources for Veterans.
- Check out VA’s patient information, including what to do after diagnosis, how to understand your test results, as well as success stories from Veterans living with and beating hepatitis C.
- Talk to your VA health care provider about getting a hepatitis C test.
- Review VA’s Vietnam War Veterans health issues page, which includes hepatitis C as a health risk that may be related to your time in Service.
- The CDC has a lot of information related to hepatitis C, including statistics, testing recommendations and much more. CDC’s factsheet on hepatitis C is a helpful, easy-to-read resource.
Hepatitis C is a treatable, curable disease. Get tested and ensure you’re doing everything you can to protect your health and wellness.