Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes liver inflammation and damage. Dr. Malone, what can you tell us about hepatitis C?
Well, Major Spencer, hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus, which spreads through contact with an infected person's blood. The virus can cause an acute or chronic infection.
Acute hepatitis C is a short-term infection with symptoms that last up to six months. Many people with hepatitis C have no symptoms, but acute infections can produce symptoms one to three months after exposure to the virus. Those symptoms can include:
- Dark yellow urine
- Pale or clay-colored stool
- Joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Vomiting, and
- Jaundice, or yellowing of the eyes and skin
Some people are able to fight off a hepatitis C infection, but for a majority of people, an acute infection will eventually develop into chronic, or long-lasting, hepatitis C. Although many people with chronic hepatitis C have no symptoms and don't know they have the disease, the infection can cause serious complications, including:
- Cirrhosis, or late-stage scarring of the liver
- Chronic liver failure, also called end-stage liver disease, where the liver can no longer perform important functions or replace damaged cells, and
- Liver cancer
Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent these complications, so it's important for people at risk of contracting hepatitis C to be screened.