If you or someone you love suffers from the hepatitis C virus – otherwise known as HCV – then you know just how damaging the virus can be.

While HCV can do a lot of destruction in terms of general discomfort, it can also manifest itself in very frightening, damaging ways, such as cirrhosis of the liver.

Currently, about 3.5 million people in the United States are living with HCV, but there’s quite the catch— most of them have no idea that they are infected and that their livers could be compromised.

This discrepancy is because, in about 70-80% of the reported acute cases, patients either experience no symptoms at all or experience vague symptoms that can easily lead to misdiagnoses. This aspect is one of the things that has lead physicians and researchers to refer to it as the “silent epidemic.”

Luckily, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for HCV sufferers. In 2011 a new drug was released that wipes out the virus for practically all patients in just 8 to 12 weeks. But just because pharmaceutical companies have found a way to easily treat HCV, doesn’t mean that it’s not a major threat to some members of the population.

As we mentioned, symptoms aren’t always common in infected patients, but there are some that can be easily attached to other illnesses, which can lead to misdiagnoses. Here are some of the hallmark signs that sufferers experience:

  • fatigue or weakness
  • lack of hunger
  • nausea
  • muscle or joint pain
  • weight loss

See what we mean when we say that these symptoms can be easily mistaken for something more benign?

As a matter of fact, we’re willing to bet that you experience at least one of the above indicators every once in a while, without thinking anything of it once it goes away! Just goes to show you why HCV has earned its nickname as the “silent epidemic.”

How does the Hepatitis C virus spread?

Like most all viruses, Hepatitis C can be transferred through the blood in a number of ways, some of which might not always be the most obvious. Here are the populations that are most at-risk for contracting HCV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Injection drug users, both active and inactive
  • Patients who received clotting factor concentrates made before 1987
  • Recipients of blood transfusions or organ transplants before 1992
  • Chronic hemodialysis patients
  • Healthcare workers who have suffered needle sticks
  • HIV patients
  • Offspring of HCV-positive mothers

If you fall into any of the above categories — and especially if you are, in fact, experiencing the symptoms — it’s time that you have a serious talk with your doc about the hepatitis C virus. Luckily, testing is usually simple and non-invasive, and results come back quickly.

To learn even more about the virus, including how it affects the livers of acute patients, be sure to watch the video below. In it, you’ll get advice from HCV expert and Mount Sinai Hospital clinical instructor, Paul Knoepflmacher, MD. Free medical advice? We’ll take it!

What are your thoughts on HCV symptoms? Do you suffer from HCV? If so, did you notice any symptoms prior to your diagnosis?