Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver. It is primarily spread through blood-to-blood contact, such as sharing needles or other equipment used to inject drugs. Symptoms of hepatitis C include fatigue, abdominal pain, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). In some cases, the infection can lead to serious complications, such as liver damage and an increased risk of liver cancer.
Treatment for hepatitis C typically involves taking antiviral medications, which can clear the virus from the body and prevent further liver damage. In most cases, a combination of two or more drugs is used. The new treatment options have made cure rate above 90%.
Preventing hepatitis C involves avoiding behaviors that put you at risk of exposure to the virus, such as injecting drugs and sharing personal items that may be contaminated with blood. It’s also important to get tested if you think you may have been exposed to the virus, and to get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, which can also cause liver damage.
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Treatment of Hepatitis C
The treatment of hepatitis C typically involves taking antiviral medications, which can clear the virus from the body and prevent further liver damage. The mainstay of treatment is direct-acting antiviral (DAA) therapy, which is highly effective at curing the infection. The newer DAAs have a higher cure rate and shorter duration of treatment than the older interferon-based therapy.
The specific treatment regimen will depend on the genotype of the virus, the stage of liver disease, and any other medical conditions the patient may have. The treatment duration usually varies from 8 to 24 weeks. The most commonly used DAA regimens include:
- Sofosbuvir and ledipasvir (Harvoni)
- Sofosbuvir, velpatasvir, and voxilaprevir (Vosevi)
- Sofosbuvir and daclatasvir (Daklinza)
- Sofosbuvir and ribavirin (Ribasphere)
In addition to DAAs, other medications such as ribavirin and interferon may be used to enhance the effectiveness of treatment.
It’s important to follow the treatment regimen as prescribed by the doctor and to get regular blood tests to monitor the response to treatment and check for any side effects. With the new treatment options and the high cure rate, most patients with hepatitis C can be cured of the infection.
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Hepatitis C Symptoms
Many people with hepatitis C do not have any symptoms in the early stages of the infection, which is why it is often referred to as a “silent” disease. However, when symptoms do occur, they can include:
- Fatigue: This is one of the most common symptoms of hepatitis C and can be severe.
- Abdominal pain: Some people with hepatitis C may experience pain or discomfort in the upper right side of the abdomen, where the liver is located.
- Jaundice: This is a condition in which the skin and whites of the eyes turn yellow. It is caused by an accumulation of bilirubin, a yellowish pigment produced by the liver.
- Dark urine: This may be caused by the increased bilirubin levels in the blood.
- Light-colored stools: This may be caused by the decreased bilirubin levels in the blood.
- Loss of appetite: Some people with hepatitis C may not feel like eating.
- Nausea and vomiting: Some people with hepatitis C may experience these symptoms.
- Itchy skin: Some people may experience itching due to the accumulation of bile salts in the skin.
It’s important to note that these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, and not everyone with hepatitis C will experience them. If you have been exposed to the virus or think you may be at risk, it’s important to get tested and to see a doctor for a proper diagnosis.
Hepatitis C Causes
Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is primarily spread through blood-to-blood contact. The most common ways people become infected with the virus include:
- Sharing needles or other equipment used to inject drugs: This is the most common way that people become infected with HCV.
- Receiving a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992: Before 1992, blood and organs were not screened for HCV, so it is possible to contract the virus from these sources.
- Having a history of being on hemodialysis: People who have had a long-term hemodialysis treatment may have a higher risk of contracting the virus.
- Being born to a mother with hepatitis C: A mother with hepatitis C can pass the virus to her baby during childbirth.
- Having unprotected sexual contact with a person who has hepatitis C: The risk of contracting the virus through sexual contact is considered low, but it is still possible.
- Occupational exposure: Health care workers and other people who come into contact with blood on a regular basis may be at risk of contracting the virus.
It’s important to note that not everyone with these risk factors will become infected with the virus, and some people may become infected without any known risk factors. If you are concerned about your risk of contracting hepatitis C, it’s important to talk to your doctor and get tested if necessary.
Hepatitis C Test
There are several tests that can be used to diagnose hepatitis C. These include:
- Blood tests to check for the presence of hepatitis C virus (HCV) antibodies and/or HCV RNA (viral load)
- Liver function tests to check for any damage to the liver
- Imaging tests such as ultrasound or CT scan to check for any liver abnormalities
- Liver biopsy, which involves removing a small sample of liver tissue for examination under a microscope.
It’s important to note that a positive test result for HCV antibodies does not necessarily mean the person has an active infection, as the antibodies may persist after successful treatment. A HCV RNA test is needed to confirm an active infection.
Hepatitis C Transmission
Hepatitis C is primarily transmitted through the blood. The most common routes of transmission include:
- Sharing needles or other equipment used to inject drugs
- Accidental needle sticks in healthcare settings
- Receiving a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992, when screening of the blood supply for HCV began
- Being born to a mother with hepatitis C
- Having unprotected sexual contact with an infected person, although this is considered a low-risk mode of transmission
- Tattoos or piercings done with non-sterile equipment
It’s also possible, but much less common, to contract hepatitis C through sharing personal items such as razors or toothbrushes that may have been contaminated with small amounts of blood, or through exposure to an infected person’s blood during certain medical procedures or rituals.
It’s important to note that the risk of transmission of HCV through casual contact, such as hugging, shaking hands, or sharing food or drinks, is considered to be very low.
Hepatitis C Diagnosis
Hepatitis C is typically diagnosed using a combination of blood tests. The tests include:
- Antibody test: This test is used to detect the presence of antibodies to the hepatitis C virus (HCV) in the blood. If the test is positive, it means that the person has been exposed to the virus at some point in time, but it does not indicate an active infection.
- RNA test (viral load test): This test is used to detect the presence of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) genetic material (RNA) in the blood. If the test is positive, it means that the person has an active infection.
- Liver function test: These tests are used to check for any damage to the liver caused by hepatitis C. These tests include ALT, AST, albumin, bilirubin, and prothrombin time. Abnormal results of these tests may indicate liver damage.
If the blood test results are positive, additional tests may be done to confirm the diagnosis and to determine the genotype of the virus. Genotype is important because it determines the treatment options.
A liver biopsy may also be done to check the degree of liver damage caused by the virus.
It’s important to note that some people with hepatitis C may not have any symptoms, so they may not know they are infected. It’s important for people who are at risk of contracting hepatitis C to be tested, especially if they have any risk factors.