Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that ranges from an acute illness lasting a few weeks to a chronic, lifelong illness that attacks the liver. It results from infection with the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is spread primarily through contact with the blood of an infected person.
- Acute hepatitis C virus infection is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the hepatitis C virus. In 80% of people, acute infection leads to chronic infection.
- Chronic hepatitis C virus infection is a long-term illness that occurs when the hepatitis C virus remains in a person’s body. Hepatitis C virus infection can last a lifetime and lead to serious liver problems, including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or liver cancer.
The best way to prevent hepatitis C is by avoiding behaviors that can spread the disease, especially injecting drugs. The hepatitis C virus can survive outside the body at room temperature for up to 2 months! Some countries have a higher rate of hepatitis C, which could increase a person’s exposure risk when traveling to these countries. Some people are at increased risk for hepatitis C, including:
- Recipients of donated blood, blood products/clotting factors, and organs (once a common means of transmission but now rare in the United States since blood screening became available in 1992)
- People born between 1945 – 1965 due to changes in universal precautions in health care facilities
- People who received body piercings or tattoos in unregulated facilities with non-sterile equipment
- Persons on dialysis
- Current or past injection or intranasal drug use
- Health care workers with needle-stick injuries
- HIV-infected persons
- Children born to mothers infected with the hepatitis C virus.
Patient Assistance Programs
Anyone with hepatitis C may benefit from a patient assistance programs.
Those with HIV and hepatitis C can use the Virginia Department of Health treatment assistance program AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). The program provides Harvoni, Sovaldi, Viekira Pak and if needed, ribavirin, and payments for associated medical care and labs for uninsured clients or those whose insurance does not cover those medications.