"Hepatitis" means inflammation of the liver and also refers to a group of viral infections that affect the liver. The most common types are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. Hepatitis A gets the most notoriety in the media as it has the potential to cause outbreaks because of the way it is transmitted, but does not usually cause long term complications. But Hepatitis B and C are the leading causes of liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation.
Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. This can happen through multiple ways. Before widespread screening of the blood supply began in 1992, Hepatitis C was spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. People with clotting problems who took blood products prior to 1987 were also exposed to Hepatitis C. Sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs was and is a very efficient way to transmit the virus, even if it was done a few times. People have also become infected with the Hepatitis C virus from body piercing or tattoos that were given in prisons, at home or in other unlicensed facilities.
Although uncommon, outbreaks of Hepatitis C have occurred from blood contamination in health care settings. In rare cases, Hepatitis C may be sexually transmitted. Babies born to mothers with Hepatitis C can get the infection during childbirth. Some people do not know how or when they became infected.
Unfortunately, symptoms of chronic Hepatitis C can take up to 30 years to develop and are often a sign of advanced liver disease. Because there can be many years between initial infection and the long term complications, many people are not aware that they have the disease. An estimated 4.4 million Americans are living with chronic hepatitis; most do not know they are infected. We also know that more than 75 percent of adults infected are known as baby boomers, people born from 1945 through 1965. Again, most people with Hepatitis C do not know they are infected. For that reason, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently recommended that all baby boomers be tested for Hepatitis C in addition to other high risk populations.