You can have it and not know it
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Cat. No. HP40-72/2012
Hepatitis C is a chronic liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV).
In 2007, it was estimated that 242,500 people in Canada were infected with HCV, and that 7,900 persons were newly infected. In 2010, 10,741 cases of hepatitis C were reported in Canada.
While not identified until 1989, the hepatitis C virus has been around for a very long time. Many infected people do not know they have the virus because for most, there will be no symptoms and for others, the symptoms may not show up for decades. During this time, they can spread the infection to others. You may not know you have this infection until damage has already been done to your liver. That's why you need to know if you're at risk.
HCV is spread through contact with infected blood. While many people became infected through blood and blood products in the past, between 70 and 80 per cent of HCV transmission in Canada today is due to injection drug use and sharing of contaminated needles and other drug-using paraphernalia (e.g., straws, pipes, spoons, cookers, etc.).
The most common risk factors for HCV infection include:
Persons who were exposed to contaminated blood, blood products or organ transplantation prior to 1992 may be at risk.
Hepatitis C is NOT spread by casual contact such as hugging, kissing or shaking hands or by being around someone who is sneezing or coughing. The hepatitis C virus is not found in food or water.
There are medications available to treat HCV which can help to protect from serious liver damage. Early diagnosis is critical because the sooner treatment is started, the better the chance that it may help clear the virus. Treatment can also help lessen damage to the liver and can prevent individuals from unknowingly spreading the virus to others.
If you think you may be at risk for hepatitis C, you should consult your health care provider who may recommend that you take a simple blood test to determine if you have the virus.
It's important to keep your liver healthy because it does a lot of things for you. It helps digest food and also stores vitamins and minerals. But most importantly, the liver acts as a filter for chemicals and other substances that enter the body. It is also important in the manufacture of your blood and many proteins.
The best way to keep yourself safe from hepatitis C infection is to take the following precautions:
Avoid or limit alcohol consumption.
A combination of medications can be used to treat hepatitis C. Talk to your health care provider to see if treatment is right for you. Presently, there is no licensed vaccine to prevent HCV infection.
To prevent further damage to your liver, your health care provider may advise vaccination against hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Many provinces and territories provide these vaccinations at no direct cost to you.
If you have hepatitis C, you may infect others. To prevent spreading the virus:
Hepatitis C is an infection that progresses slowly and for many people treatment is available. It is important to find out if you have HCV so that you can take the necessary steps to protect yourself and others.