What is Hepatitis C or HCV?
Hepatitis C belongs to the family of viruses that cause Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. The virus primarily cause inflammation of the liver and is spread through diverse modes of transmission. The virus is dangerous. It can cause some serious liver damage including liver cancer, liver failure and even going to the extent of causing death.
How common is Hepatitis C?
Contrary to some popular beliefs, Hepatitis C is pretty common. According to statistics, nearly 3.2 million Americans are infected with the virus and about 17,000 more gets infected each year. The most common mode of transmission of virus is through blood, however Hepatitis A is also caused from food and drinks.
Other sources of spread of this virus is through alcohol, illness, immune disorder, drugs overuse as well as through un-prescribed medications. Unfortunately, many people infected with the virus do not actually know about it since it might take years or even decades for any symptoms to surface which will make the people consult the doctor.
How is Hepatitis C Transmitted?
Hepatitis is mainly carried through blood hence it is mostly commonly transmitted through contact with the infected blood via any opening or prick in the skin.
The most common medium by which Hepatitis is transmitted is from injection used for drug administration. Hence sharing dirty needle with the one infected with the virus is a major cause of the spread of the virus. This also makes healthcare professionals prone to exposure due to needle-stick injury.
The virus can also spread by having sex or using personalized items like a razor or a toothbrush of the infected person. However, these cases are reportedly rare.
What are various signs and symptoms of Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C does not exhibit any symptoms in about 70% to 80% cases and more so during the early years of catching the virus. Such people develop symptoms years and even decades later when significant liver damage has already been occurred.
However, some people develop symptoms early, i.e. between 2-6 weeks post infection. New cases struck with the virus may show fatigue, abdominal pain, joint pain, dark urine, loss of appetite, vomiting, nausea, clay-colored stool as well as yellowing of skin (jaundice). Nevertheless, a person who does not show any signs can still transmit the virus to other people.
Acute Vs Chronic Hepatitis Infection
In medical terms, a person is suffering from acute form of Hepatitis if he/she develops symptoms within 6 months of acquiring the virus. Of total number of cases, almost 20% to 30% of patients experience acute signs. After this, virus is either removed from the body or goes on to cause chronic infection to the person.
Unfortunately almost 75% to 80% people who have been diagnosed with acute form of illness go on to develop chronic form of the disease.
How is Hepatitis C Diagnosed?
Hepatitis C is identified with the help of a number of blood tests. The antibody test searches for antibodies that helps fight the virus. A result which turns out to be “non-reactive” demonstrates the absence of antibodies while a “reactive” result shows the presence of the same. However, this test fails to identify whether the virus has been acquired recently or is present in the body from the past.
Another blood test, which checks for the genetic material of the virus is also present while the test to check the amount of virus in the body, known as titer is also available.
If someone has been confirmed with the virus a doctor will generally ask for more tests to check for amount of liver damage. In such a case, a liver biopsy may be carried out. Because there are different strains of Hepatitis C present, a doctor will normally demand for more tests to check the gene type of the virus, which would help to decide the course of the treatment.
Potential Complications of Hepatitis C
Chronic Hepatitis is a dangerous condition with potentially serious consequences. As mentioned, almost 75% to 80% of those found with acute illness goes on to develop the chronic form of the disease. Studies have concluded that almost two-thirds of those in chronic illness group will go on to evolve some kind of liver disease.
Nearly 20% of patients will report liver cirrhosis inside 20-30 years. In cirrhosis, entire liver function is affected, causing increased blood liver enzymes. Almost 5% of the people diagnosed with Hepatitis C infection will die from liver cirrhosis or cancer.
Chronic Hepatitis C infection is one of the top reasons for liver transplantation in United States.
What is the treatment for Hepatitis C?
Treatment for Hepatitis C depends upon a variety of factors. First and foremost is the degree of illness, i.e. whether the illness is acute or chronic. Other factors such as the genotype of the virus, response of the patient to previous treatments, how much virus is present in the body, amount of liver damage as well as overall health of the patient.
In general, the treatment for Hepatitis C is highly individualized and therefore it is very important to remain under the care of a doctor who is an expert in the field.
There are several medicines to treat Hepatitis C including peglyated interferon (Pegasys, Pegintron), ribavirin (CoPegus, Rebetol), Interferon (Infergen, Roferon, Intron A), boceprevir (Victralis), telaprevir (Incivek), sofosbuvir (Sovaldi) and Simprevir (Olysio).
The aim of the treatment available is to accomplish Sustained Virologic Response (SVR) which signify no detectable within 6 month of the treatment.
While definitely it’s not a cure, it is surely the next best thing that you can have to keep you away from the virus for a time span.
Patients in the advanced stage of Hepatitis C, whose liver has been seriously damaged have to undergo liver transplant. However, that alone does not eliminate the disease. Those who had active infection during the time of transplant will again develop the disease in the new liver.
In some cases people who are already on anti-viral treatment still gets infected too. However those who have been successful in accomplishing sustained virologic response have shown a very low risk of getting Hepatitis C in the transplanted liver.
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Is Hepatitis C Curable?
Some people have an inherent ability to clear the virus on their own while others go on to develop the chronic form of the disease. What lies behind this inherent ability of some people to clear the virus is still not known.
While there is no cure for chronic or even acute form of the disease, Sustained Virologic Response (SVR) is the next best treatment for such patients. Moreover chances of the infection occurring again in those who have undergone SVR is very low.
Once treated, can Hepatitis C be contracted again?
Yes, even after a person has been successfully treated, there are chances of him/her contracting the disease again. Even though the chances are lower, but they are still nevertheless present.
Is there a vaccine for Hepatitis C?
Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for preventing Hepatitis C. Currently, the research is going on to develop the vaccine against the virus. Once contracted, the virus usually remains in your body throughout your whole life. The sooner you come to know about, the better the chance of preventing any serious damage to the liver. However, vaccines are available for Hepatitis B and Hepatitis A.
Can Hepatitis C be prevented?
The principal medium of transmitting Hepatitis C is blood. Thus, in order to prevent catching the disease, one should avoid sharing personal items such as toothbrushes, needles and razors etc. Stay away from taking injected drugs and always use a condom while having sex.
Other things such as tattoos and body piercings are also high risk factors, thus always check out for their hygiene and sterility and get them done from the facilities that have the policy of one time use of various items such as gloves, ink pots, needles etc.
Healthcare workers should use needle-sticks carefully and properly dispose off materials that come in contact with blood. Always consult your doctor for any risk factor and keep your knowledge updated on the transmission and prevention of virus.
Hepatitis C cannot be spread through coughing, sneezing, hugging, breastfeeding or kissing. You even cannot get hepatitis C through the medium of food and water. Thus, keep in mind the real risk factors and keep away from the disease by avoiding direct blood contact.
What are dietary precautions that one should follow?
Medicines are definitely helpful, however along with your medication, proper diet, positive attitude and improved lifestyle goes a long way in managing hepatitis C. You can follow the underwritten tips, not only to stay robust when you are down with the virus but also to maintain general health and fitness.
Healthy diet is good for everyone and extremely beneficial for an overall round development. It very important that one should include foods such as whole grains, lean proteins, fresh fruits and vegetables as well as some dairy products. However, one should avoid eating raw or undercooked oysters as well as shellfish as they can cause serious affliction of Hepatitis C or make the already affected cases worse.
Keep yourself hydrated
Drink at least 8-10 glasses of water every day to keep a balance of all the fluids in the body. Drink water at regular intervals, throughout the day. Keep your stock of water with you, when away from home.
Skip the alcohol
Even small amounts of alcohol may be harmful for your liver. Thus, make a serious endeavor to avoid taking it in any form at all.
Manage your weight
Being overweight can lead you to a condition called fatty liver which can cause cirrhosis, a problem which induces scarring of the organ.
To manage your weight properly, bring in a combo of both diet and exercise in your life. If it’s difficult to stick to a particular diet plan, ask your doctor for help.
Adopt an active lifestyle
Keep yourself active throughout the day, either thorough exercise or being dynamic and energetic in your routine activities.
However what amount of exercise you need depends on your condition if you have hepatitis C.
If you have mild condition, you probably need same amount of exercise as everyone else such as a couple of hours of aerobics every day and muscle strengthening, two times a week.
If, one the other hand, your condition is more severe, you might need a personalized regimen from your doctor to better suit your needs and correspond to your body’s strength.
Stay Away from Supplements
Some people try supplements to attend to their hepatitis C condition. However, no particular brand has been proven as a reliable source to treat hepatitis. On the other hand, some supplements available for weight loss or muscles building have even led to liver failure. Therefore, always consult your doctor before trying them.
Kick out Stress from your life
Stress has become a part and parcel of everyday lives today. Many patients of hepatitis remain anxious about their condition. However eating healthy and doing mild exercise can help you keep away from stress.
Try to relieve your stress either taking a counselling from your doctor or making a contact with the people going through the same condition or both. Stay positive and keep a progressive attitude towards life.
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