Hepatitis C is a silent epidemic

Known as a silent epidemic, Hepatitis C affects over 3 million Americans, yet many are unaware they are infected.

The disease is a viral illness that attacks the liver, but unlike Hepatitis A, which is so short-term that many people clear the infection on their own without medical treatment, and Hepatitis B, which shows clear signs and symptoms, about half of the people living with Hepatitis C don't have recognizable symptoms.

"And unfortunately, it is that same group of people that go on to typically become chronically infected, whereas those 50 percent that do mount a large number of the side effects and become acutely ill, they typically will clear the infection," said Dr. Jefrey Start, Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine at Ottumwa Regional Health Center. "It is very common for that group of people to get better and not require treatment."

Those who do show signs will notice a yellowing of the skin and eyes, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting or other stomach flu-like symptoms. Dr. Start said those symptoms can last anywhere from two to eight weeks and is most often treated with a drug called interferon alfa.

The group with Hepatitis C that might not show symptoms are sometimes chronic drug users or those in the sex trade or adult entertainment industry. Since the illness is spread primarily through blood-to-blood contact and improperly sterilized medical equipment, that population is at risk for infection.

If you have any indication or suspicion that you have Hepatitis C, visit your doctor for a blood test.