Hepatitis C is a viral infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus. It is known around the globe, and it is estimated that about 71 million people live with the chronic form of this disease worldwide, while about 40,0000 die each year from complications related to this disease.
The illness can take either an acute or a chronic form. In the beginning, little to no symptoms are present. Some people (15 to 45 percent of patients) clear the virus out of their organism after a few months, depending on the subtype of the virus, and also on the presence of a specific gene in the patient. On the other hand, 60 to 80 percent of develop a chronic form. Although there are antivirals and medications to fight this disease (some of which have a 95 percent success rate), in some cases, this disease can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.
The beginning of the disease usually isn't accompanied by symptoms. But, as the damage progresses, more symptoms start appearing. Typical symptoms of hepatitis C include:
- Pain in the upper right part of the abdomen
- Dark urine
- Joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
So, what are the ways a person can get infected with the virus?
1. IV drug use
This one is kind of obvious, but if you use intravenous drugs and share your equipment with other people, you are at risk of contracting Hep C. Although ways of transmission vary from region to region, in the US, as well as in 24 other countries, using IV drugs is the main way of getting a hepatitis C infection. In the US, 60 percent of new hepatitis C infections come from using drugs.
2. Blood transfusion
While not as common in western countries as in developing countries, this is also a source of hepatitis C infection that should be noted. While western countries routinely test donated blood for hepatitis C, as well as for some other diseases, many countries do not do this, due to the high cost of the tests.
3. Sharing personal equipment
Sharing equipment, such as razors or toothbrushes, can put you at risk of getting hepatitis C. When shaving, or brushing teeth, microscopic parts of blood remain on the blade/toothbrush. If these particles carry the virus, and come to contact with a cut that you have, and it can even be a microscopic cut, you can get infected. It is important to note that the virus can't be spread by sharing items such as knives, forks and spoons.
4. Having unprotected sex
This isn't a common way of contracting the hepatitis C, but some risk still exists. In cases of rough or drunk unprotected sex, it is common for microscopic ulcerations to appear on both male and female genitals. Ulcerations are especially common during anal sex. Hepatitis C isn't spread by semen, or vaginal fluids, but direct contact between these ulcerations may pose a risk of getting an infection. Although getting hepatitis C shouldn't be the main concern if you have risky sexual behavior, either way you should always use protection if you engage in this type of sexual relationship.
5. Sniffing drugs
Using drugs by nose is one of the ways to get infected, not only with hepatitis C, but with other types of hepatitis too. Traces of blood can remain on the tube used for sniffing, as well as on the surface used to prepare the drug. Inhaling these may expose you to the virus.
6. Getting a tattoo or a piercing
Body modification used to be a common way of getting hepatitis C, although, in the last few decades, the improvement of sterilization process has drastically lowered the incidence of getting infected this way. If an artist re-uses their equipment without sterilization, the virus could be transferred to your body, if the last person on which the equipment was used had hepatitis.
7. From mother to child
Although rarely, an infection can pass from an infected mother to her child. The exact mechanism of how the disease spreads this way isn't known, but it is known that in about 10 percent of pregnancies, a hepatitis C positive mother transfers the infection to her child. It should be noted that the infection cannot be passed by breast milk. But, since the virus is blood-borne, breastfeeding should be avoided, because the infection could be spread through the wounds and cracks on the mother's nipples.