(ARA) - Hepatitis C is a silent epidemic in America. Millions of Americans have chronic hepatitis C, which is caused through infection with the hepatitis C virus. Hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver cancer. As many as 75 percent of people who are living with hepatitis C don't know they are infected. "People can get infected through contaminated blood from a person who has hepatitis C," says Martha Saly, director of the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable (NVHR). "While many people associate hepatitis C with injection drug use, there are some people who don't know how or when they became infected." Many myths prevail about this often-hidden disease. Here are the five things you need to know about hepatitis C: Hepatitis C often has no symptoms. Unlike many other diseases, people with hepatitis C often have no symptoms. In fact, a person can live with an infection for up to 20 or 30 years without feeling sick, even though liver damage may be taking place all along. "You can actually look and feel healthy and still have hepatitis C," says Saly. "The danger in having no symptoms is that when or if symptoms do appear, they can be a sign of serious liver damage. That's why hepatitis C is often referred to as a 'silent' epidemic." Doctors do not routinely test for hepatitis C. You may think that you've already been tested for hepatitis C, but blood tests for hepatitis C are not typically done as a part of annual check-ups. Hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver cancer. Rates of liver cancer in the United States have tripled over the last several decades, and at least half of these cases are attributable to hepatitis C. "Left undetected and untreated, chronic hepatitis C can lead to serious liver problems and even liver cancer," says Saly. About 15,000 people die every year from liver disease related to hepatitis C. Getting tested for hepatitis C is critical. Getting tested for hepatitis C involves a simple blood test. To find out if you are at risk, take the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) online Hepatitis Risk Assessment, available at CDC's Know More Hepatitis campaign website: www.cdc.gov/HEPATITIS/riskassessment. Treatments are available for hepatitis C. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration approved new treatments for hepatitis C. The new treatments are more effective, and can eliminate the virus from the body. To learn more about hepatitis C, visit www.nvhr.org.
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