Today’s hepatitis C causes can be ascribed to sharing needles or any other drug paraphernalia. Prior to the 1990s, the major causes of hepatitis C were organ transplantation and blood transfusions. Even today, about one percent of hepatitis C victims get the disease in a healthcare setting, as when getting a shot or having an intravenous line installed. Another small percentage gets it at birth, from an infected mother.
The hepatitis C virus also lives for up to six weeks on room-temperature surfaces. This means that hepatitis C can survive quite nicely on toothbrushes, shaving razors and other personal grooming items.
The acute phase of hepatitis C is short-term, lasting two to 12 weeks. Unfortunately, up to 85 percent of people who acquire it will go on to develop chronic hepatitis C. Moreover, of those 85 percent, as many as half may never even know they have hepatitis C, until a routine blood test shows the antibody or antigen. In fact, all types of acute viral hepatitis are so similar, a blood test is the only way to isolate hepatitis C.
There is no hepatitis C vaccine. The best way to prevent the disease is to avoid situations or behaviors that are known triggers. For example, a recent study shows injection drug using (IDU) males who have sex with men are 42.9 percent more likely than non-IDU males (4.0 percent) to continue to harbor hepatitis C viruses.
Acute hepatitis C is on the increase, from 1,778 in 2012 to 2138 in 2013, but there is reason for hope. Rates of chronic hepatitis C infection were at their highest in the 1970s and 1980s. In addition, up to one-fourth of all those infected may clear the virus from their bodies for reasons unknown.
Of every 100 people in the United States who acquire hepatitis C, between one and five will die (from liver cancer or cirrhosis). Sadly, people who get hepatitis C and survive cannot count on automatic hepatitis C immunity.
Chronic hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplants.