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Hepatitis C

Screening and Diagnosis | Treatment | For More Information

An estimated four million Americans are infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV). A contagious blood-borne virus, hepatitis C causes liver disease through persistent liver inflammation. Up to 25% of HCV-infected individuals will develop cirrhosis if left untreated. Typically a silent condition, hepatitis C doesn’t reveal itself or the damage it is causing for years. In fact, symptoms of liver damage may not become apparent for several decades after the initial infection.

The hepatitis C virus is transmitted via blood and body fluids, typically through blood transfusion or intravenous drug use. Sharing needles, personal hygiene/grooming items such as razors or nail clippers and getting tattoos or body piercings also puts individuals at risk for contracting the disease. No vaccine currently exists to prevent hepatitis C.

Screening and Diagnosis of Hepatitis C

After asking questions about your medical history and lifestyle and performing a physical exam, your liver disease expert may order a specific blood test for hepatitis C. This screening test works to show the presence of the virus in your body. Immediate or acute infection may or may not result in hepatitis C symptoms. Signs of hepatitis C infection often don’t show up until your liver has been damaged.

 Symptoms of longstanding disease include:

  • fever
  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • dark urine
  • abnormal stool coloration
  • joint pain
  • jaundice

For patients who test positive for hepatitis C and who may have unknowingly had the disease for many years, your physician may arrange for a non-invasive FibroScan® exam, blood tests or liver biopsy. These tests help assess the extent of liver damage, or stage, allowing your physician to develop a personalized hepatitis C treatment plan.

Baby Boomer Screening

Patients who were born between the years of 1945 and 1965 (“baby boomers”) are at increased risk for having acquired the hepatitis C infection, due to contaminated blood products or injection drug use prior to the identification of the virus in 1989. The CDC now recommends one-time, routine Hepatitis C testing in all baby boomers. 

NorthShore has embarked on a testing program that routinely checks for the hepatitis C virus in all baby boomer patients who have not previously been tested. This program was started in 2017, and is supported by a special alert in the patient’s electronic medical record (“Best Practice Alert”). 

To date, over 13,000 patients have been tested for HCV, and many of the newly identified patients are already being treated for the infection. The program will run 5 years – with the goal of testing most if not all NorthShore baby boomers by 2023!

Hepatitis C Treatment

NorthShore is committed to the diagnosis and treatment of this insidious disease to help patients avoid its life-threatening complications. At our Skokie and Glenbrook Hospital locations, we have established dedicated HCV outpatient treatment programs with experienced support staff.

Hepatitis C treatment with antiviral medications has undergone a revolution in recent years. A new generation of medications – called “direct acting antivirals” has been introduced, with dramatic improvements in the safety, tolerability and efficacy of treatment. NorthShore provides our patients with the latest therapeutic options, including sofosbuvir, ledipasvir and several other regimens. These drugs, typically taken in combination, permanently eradicate the virus, improve liver function and decrease liver scarring. Their timely use prevents potential complications such as cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure.

NorthShore staff will determine the best medical regimen, obtain medication approval from insurance carriers and guide the patient through the treatment and post-treatment phases. To date, over 450 NorthShore patients have been cured of their disease.

For More Information

For more information on hepatitis C symptoms and treatment or to schedule an appointment with one of our hepatologists, please call 847.657.1900.