Understanding & Treating Hepatitis C

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The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a type of viral infection. It may cause inflammation to your liver and in some cases, may even lead to serious liver damage. You can get HCV through contaminated blood.

Up until now, treatment for hepatitis C meant oral medications many patients with HCV couldn’t take due to the negative side effects or other health issues and weekly injections. Today, this is changing. Now, doctors can cure chronic HCV with oral medications you take daily every two to six months.

But, there’s still around 50 percent of those with hepatitis C who don’t realize they’re infected, typically because they aren’t experiencing any symptoms. And, symptoms can take decades before they show up.

Because of this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone who has an increased risk of HCV to get a one-time screening blood test. Individuals who were born between the years 1945 through 1965 are at an increased risk. In fact, they’re five times more likely to develop hepatitis C than individuals born in other years.

Causes of Hepatitis C

The hepatitis C virus causes HCV and this virus can cause either acute hepatitis or chronic hepatitis. These can range in severity. They can develop as a mild condition that goes away after several weeks or they can be a lifelong, serious condition.

You don’t get HCV through casual contact like:

  • Sneezing
  • Kissing
  • Hugging
  • Sharing water or food
  • Coughing

However, you can develop HCV by coming in contact with the contaminated blood of another person with the virus.

The most common cause of HCV is by sharing things to inject illegal drugs like:

  • Needles
  • Spoons
  • Cotton
  • Water

You can’t acquire the virus through insect or animal contact.

Symptoms of Hepatitis C

Chronic hepatitis C is when you’re infected with HCV long-term. It’s typically an infection that sits quietly or “silently” for a number of years, until it gets bad enough to cause liver damage and produce symptoms of liver disease. Some symptoms of hepatitis C and liver disease include:

  • Bruising or bleeding easily
  • Poor appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Itchy skin
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
  • Weight loss
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Spider angiomas (spider-like skin blood vessels)
  • Leg swelling
  • Drowsiness, confusion and slurred speech (hepatic encephalopathy)
  • Ascites (abdominal fluid buildup)
  • Stomach pain

All chronic HCV cases begin with an acute phase. Since there are rarely any symptoms, acute hepatitis C tends to go undiagnosed. Symptoms of acute hepatitis C may include:

  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Jaundice

Symptoms of acute HCV develop one to three months after you’re exposed to the virus and last several months. Symptoms also last up to three months as well.

Acute HCV doesn’t always develop into chronic HCV. Some individuals are able to clear their bodies of HCV following the acute phase — known as spontaneous viral clearance.

Hepatitis C Treatments

Your family doctor can test you for Hepatitis C.

Although hepatitis C isn’t efficiently transmitted sexually, those with an injection-drug risk for infection may look for treatment through places like:

  • HIV testing and counseling facilities
  • STD treatment facilities
  • Drug treatment facilities
  • Correctional facilities

They may also seek help in other public settings offering HIV and STD prevention and control services.

Types of hepatitis C treatments may include the following:

Antiviral Medications

Doctors prescribe antiviral medications to treat HCV in an attempt to eliminate the virus from your body. Your health care team will monitor you to see how you respond to the medication throughout your treatment.

Vaccinations

Even though HCV doesn’t have a vaccine, your physician may suggest you receive a vaccine against both hepatitis A and B. Both of these, while separate infections, can cause damage to your liver.

Liver Organ Transplant

If your chronic hepatitis C causes you to develop severe complications, you may require a liver transplantation. During a liver organ transplant, your surgeon will evacuate your damaged liver and replace it with a healthier liver. Generally, liver transplantation doesn’t cure HCV. The HCV is likely to come back and require antiviral medication treatment to prevent transplant liver damage.

Kidney Dialysis

Hepatitis C-related liver disease causes mortality and morbidity in end-stage renal disease patients being treated with dialysis.

Hepatitis C Prevention

Stay protected from HCV by following these few prevention tips:

  1. Be safe with tattooing and body piercing. Ensure the needles used are sterile
  2. Quit using illicit drugs, especially if you’re injecting them
  3. Practice safe sex and don’t have unprotected sex with several partners. Don’t have unprotected sex with anyone who you’re uncertain of their health status

If you suspect you may be at risk or have hepatitis C, contact your general practitioner or family doctor to get screened. If they diagnose you with HCV, they’ll likely refer you to an infectious diseases or hepatology (liver disease) specialist.

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