Hepatitis C: The Silent Epidemic

Medically Reviewed by Jacque Parker, RN

Doctor holding a Hepatitis patient chart

Hepatitis C (HCV) is being called the silent epidemic because as many as 70% of those infected with this virus don't know even know it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, nearly 4 million people in the United States are infected with the virus. HCV now causes 8,000 to 10,000 deaths a year and this number may increase to 30,000 in the next two decades.

Why haven't you heard about this and why don't you know whether you have it or not? The answer comes in two parts. The first part being that HCV first recognized in 1975 as non-A/non-B hepatitis has been over shadowed by the AIDS epidemic. Even though today it affects 4 times as many people as AIDS. That explains why you have not heard much about it. Why don't you know if you have it? Because half of the people infected with this virus have no symptoms. Others have appetite loss, fatigue, nausea, fever, dark-yellow urine or jaundice. Liver tests may also be elevated.

Most people don't know they have it and there are no symptoms, why should you even be concerned? You should be concerned because while some people have a normal life span without any significant liver damage, others develop irreversible scarring resulting in liver failure or liver cancer. The liver is an amazing organ with a great capacity to regenerate. In fact 75% of liver can be destroyed before there are any clinical symptoms. Up to 85% of people exposed to this virus develop chronic liver disease, which is a slow progressive disease that can take 10-40 years to develop. So early detection is important.

Hepatitis C symptoms and how it is spread

You are probably asking yourself, what can I do? The best advice for someone with Hepatitis C is to have regular doctor visits and adopt a healthy lifestyle. This means eating a well-balanced diet and avoiding alcohol. Exercise, plenty of asleep and stress reduction also play a role in staying well.

If you have hepatitis there are treatments available and you can do a lot by eating right and taking care of yourself.

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Stephanie Hembree was a Contributing Editor for the Clinical Nutrition category for Suite101.com.

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