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Hepatitis C (cont.)

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Can hepatitis C infection affect other organs besides the liver?

Most of the signs and symptoms of hepatitis C infection relate to the liver. Less often, hepatitis C infection can affect organs other than the liver.

Hepatitis C infection can cause the body to produce abnormal antibodies called cryoglobulins. Cryoglobulins cause inflammation of arteries (vasculitis). This may damage skin, joints, and kidneys. Patients with cryoglobulinemia (cryoglobulins in the blood) may have

  • joint pain,
  • arthritis,
  • a raised purple rash on the legs, and
  • generalized pain or swelling of their bodies.

In addition, infected individuals with cryoglobulinemia may develop Raynaud's phenomenon in which the fingers and toes turn color (white, then purple, then red), and become painful at cold temperatures.

Who is at high risk and should be tested for hepatitis C infection?

The U.S Preventive Health Services task force recommends that all adults born between 1945 and 1965 be tested once routinely for hepatitis C, regardless of whether risk factors for hepatitis C are present. One-time testing also is recommended for:

  • People who currently inject drugs or snort drugs, or ever did so, even once many years previously
  • People with persistently elevated alanine aminotransferase (ALT) level, a liver enzyme found in blood
  • People who have HIV infection
  • Children born to HIV- or HCV-infected mothers
  • People who were ever on long-term hemodialysis
  • People who got a tattoo in an unregulated setting, such as prison or by an unlicensed person
  • People who received clotting factor produced before 1987
  • People who received transfusions or organ transplants before July 1992, or who were notified that they received blood from a donor who later tested positive for hepatitis C infection
  •  Healthcare, emergency medical, and public safety workers after a needle-stick, eye or mouth exposure to hepatitis C-infected blood

People who may have been exposed to hepatitis C in the previous 6 months should be tested for viral RNA load rather than hepatitis C antibody because antibody may not be present early in hepatitis C infection.

In general, yearly screening may be appropriate for people with ongoing risk factors such as repeated sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or many sex partners, ongoing IV drug use, or long-term sex partners of people with hepatitis C. Whether or not to test these people is determined on a case-by-case decision.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/12/2016


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