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8 Early Symptoms: Could You Have Hepatitis C?

The Editors at Hepatitis Central
March 1, 2016

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Especially if engaged in any activities putting you at risk for Hepatitis C infection, it’s important to be alert of this illness’s most common early symptoms.
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Most of those with acute Hepatitis C are not treated for this infectious viral disease of the liver because they don’t know they are infected. This is usually because early Hepatitis C infection symptoms are vague, if present at all. Awareness of how the Hepatitis C virus is transmitted and what the nebulous symptoms are during the acute phase could prompt early testing and hasten treatment.

Hepatitis C Transmission

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus, meaning that it is primarily transmitted through direct contact with an infected person’s blood. Most new cases of acute Hepatitis C occur in intravenous drug users who use contaminated needles. Although not an exhaustive list, other possible routes for infection include:

  • Being accidentally stuck by a needle used on an infected person
  • Receiving a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992, when testing the blood supply for Hepatitis C was initiated
  • Getting a tattoo or body piercing with unsterile equipment
  • Undergoing hemodialysis
  • Sharing personal hygiene products, such as razors or toothbrushes, with an infected person

Acute and Chronic Hepatitis C

Acute Hepatitis C develops several weeks after the Hepatitis C virus enters the bloodstream; it becomes chronic when the virus persists for longer than six months. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 75 to 85 percent of people who become infected with this virus develop a chronic infection. Treating acute Hepatitis C drastically reduces the risk of its progression to the chronic form, which can have potentially devastating consequences.

Chronic Hepatitis C can lead to serious scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), liver cancer and/or liver failure. The longer a person is infected with Hepatitis C, the more damage it can do to the liver. Unfortunately, the symptoms are either vague or non-existent, typically allowing the virus to flourish for years without detection. According to Camilla Graham, MD, infectious disease specialist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, “It is called the ‘silent epidemic’ because people can be infected for 30 or more years and have no idea they have it.” Early detection and treatment (preferably when still acute) is the best way to prevent the more serious form of Hepatitis C infection.

8 Common Early Symptoms

Most people with acute Hepatitis C will not have any noticeable symptoms. In 25 to 33 percent of those infected, symptoms do materialize but are mistaken for feeling ‘under the weather,’ or a mild cold or stomach bug. Early symptoms can emerge between two and seven weeks after exposure to the Hepatitis C virus.

The most common early symptoms include:

  1. Body temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
  2. Fatigue
  3. Low appetite
  4. Abdominal pains
  5. General malaise
  6. Nausea or vomiting
  7. Joint or muscle pain
  8. Abnormalities in urine or bowel movements

In addition, some with acute Hepatitis C infection develop jaundice, yellowing of the eyes and skin. Jaundice is typically the most obvious indicator of a liver problem; however, it is only seen in about one quarter of those with acute Hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C Test

Being aware of its early symptoms can urge someone who may feel like they have a mild case of the flu to request a Hepatitis C test by their doctor. Discovering Hepatitis C while still in its acute phase can save years of suffering with chronic liver disease and could even be a lifesaver. However, the vague nature of Hepatitis C’s early symptoms results in diagnosing Hepatitis C in its acute phase a rarity.

The more realistic reason for requesting a Hepatitis C test is recognizing exposure to potentially contaminated blood. Thus, sharing intravenous needles, accidentally getting stuck by a needle in a healthcare setting or receiving a tattoo or piercing in an unlicensed, unsterile environment is best followed up by a Hepatitis C test. If both scenarios apply – exposure to potentially contaminated blood and then feeling ill several weeks later, then a doctor visit is definitely in order.

http://depts.washington.edu/hepstudy/hepC/clindx/acute/discussion.html, Hepatitis C Case-Based Modules, Retrieved February 14, 2016, University of Washington, 2016.

http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/cfaq.htm, Hepatitis C FAQs for the Public, Retrieved February 14, 2016, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016.

http://www.everydayhealth.com/news/10-essential-facts-about-hepatitis-c/, 10 Essential Facts About Hepatitis C, Regina Boyle Wheeler, Retrieved February 14, 2016, Everyday Health Media, LLC, 2016.

http://www.healthline.com/health/acute-hepatitis-c#3, Acute Hepatitis C: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments & More, Kimberly Holland, Retrieved February 14, 2016, Healthline Media, 2016.

http://www.healthline.com/health/hepatitis-c/symptoms#Types5, What are the Symptoms and Warning Signs of Hepatitis C?, Robin Madell, Retrieved February 14, 2016, Healthline Media, 2016.

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hepatitis-c/expert-answers/acute-hepatitis-c-infection/faq-20097138, Hepatitis C, Retrieved February 14, 2016, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2016.

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Hepatitis-C/Pages/Symptoms.aspx, Hepatitis C – Symptoms, Retrieved February 14, 2016, gov.uk, 2016.

http://www.webmd.com/hepatitis/hepc-guide/hepatitis-c-symptoms, Hepatitis Health Center – Symptoms, Retrieved February 14, 2016, WebMD, LLC, 2016.

http://www.webmd.com/hepatitis/tc/hepatitis-c-treatment-overview, Hepatitis C Treatment Overview, Retrieved February 14, 2016, WebMD, LLC, 2016.


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