What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that can cause inflammation and damage to the liver. The virus can cause serious health complications including liver damage, liver failure, and liver cancer. Hepatitis C is easily spread among injection drug users and, although it can go away naturally, 80 percent of people develop a chronic and lifelong infection that leads to major health problems.
Drug use puts people at an increased risk of contracting viral hepatitis. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “People who inject drugs (PWID) are at high risk for contracting HBV and HCV from shared needles and other drug preparation equipment, which exposes them to bodily fluids from other infected people.” Intoxication also impairs a person’s judgment and may make them more likely to engage in the kinds of behaviors that put them at a greater risk of being exposed to the virus.
According to an article in the journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases entitled Injection Drug Use and Hepatitis C Virus Infection in Young Adult Injectors, ten million people who inject drugs worldwide are infected with the hepatitis C virus and strong contributing factors were not only sharing syringes, but also sharing “preparation containers, filters, rinse water, and backloading.” The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains, “One study reported that each person who injects drugs infected with HCV is likely to infect about 20 others, and that this rapid transmission of the disease occurs within the first 3 years of initial infection.” Additionally, continuing to use drugs and alcohol and lead to a quicker progression of liver damage in a person who has contracted the virus.
Hepatitis can be treated with medication taken every day for two to six months, but many people are unaware that they have the virus. Hepatitis C can be “silent” and not cause symptoms for many years until the liver is damaged to such an extent that symptoms begin to occur. Common signs and symptoms of Hepatitis C include bruising easily, bleeding easily, fatigue, yellow discoloration of the eyes and skin, poor appetite, dark-colored urine, weight loss, confusion, drowsiness, slurred speech, itchy skin, swelling in the legs or abdomen, and spider-like blood vessels on the skin known as spider angiomas.

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