What you should know about Hepatitis C:
Written by: Dr. Laleh A. Merikhi
Hepatitis C can show no symptoms until advanced liver damage develops.
Hepatitis C is a treatable disease if identified before significant complications develop.
How common is the Hepatits C?
Hepatitis C virus is the most common cause of chronic viral liver disease in the United States. It is estimated that 1.8% of the U.S population (about 4 million Americans) are infected with Hepatitis C.
The majority of the Hepatitis C patients were likely infected during 1970s and 1980s when rates were highest. CDC estimates that there are 30,000 new acute cases of hepatitis C each year.
In the United States, Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is the most common cause of liver fibrosis (cirrhosis) and liver cancer.
Who is at risk for Hepatitis C infection?
Hepatitis C is spread primarily by contact with blood and blood products. The use of injection illicit drugs is the most common mode of disease transmission including those people who injected illicit drugs only one time many years ago. People who received blood transfusions, transfusion of blood products or organ donations prior to 1992 at a time when more sensitive tests for HCV were introduced for blood screening, are at risk for Hepatitis C infection.
Other persons at increased risk for Hepatitis C include long term dialysis patients, people with tattoos and body piercing other than pierced ears, health care workers after exposure (ie, needle stick or splashes to the eye) from the blood of an infected patient, infants born to HCV-infected mothers, people with high –risk sexual behavior, multiple partners and sexually transmitted diseases, people who snore cocaine using shared equipment and people who have shared toothbrushes, razors and other personal items with a family member who is HCV infected.
Hepatitis C can be transmitted by sex, but this is rare, accounting for less than 1% of overall cases. Sexual transmission is more common in men having sex with men.
Is there a vaccine for Hepatitis C?
No, at present time Hepatitis C vaccine is not available.
What are the signs and symptoms of hepatitis C?
The majority of people with chronic Hepatitis C have no symptoms of liver disease, but some patients may complain of abdominal pain, fatigue, itching or nausea. Once the patient develops cirrhosis, signs and symptoms may be more prominent. These symptoms may include confusion, jaundice (yellowish eyes and skin), abnormal bleeding, easy bruising and abdominal swelling.
Hepatitis C can also cause diabetes (this is related to body’s immune response to the virus and occurs three times more frequently in hepatitis C infected patients), kidney disease and skin rash.
How hepatitis C being diagnosed?
Several blood tests are available to check for detecting the Hepatitis C antibody and Hepatitis C viral load.
You should know that the liver enzymes could be completely normal in many patients with HCV infection, so it is very important to ask your doctor to check the HCV antibody if you have or had any risk factors for HCV infection.
What are the treatment options?
A diagnosis of Hepatitis C infection doesn’t necessarily mean you need treatment. If you have only slight liver abnormalities, you may not need treatment, because your risk of future liver problem is very low. Hepatitis C infection is treated with antiviral medications intended to clear the virus from your body.
Patients with chronic Hepatitis C should receive genotype testing to determine the treatment approach. There are six types of Hepatitis C genotypes and patients have different responses to treatment depending on their genotype. Combination of medications taken over several weeks (between 6 months to one year) with Pegylated interferon and Ribavirin is the treatment of choice. Although Depends on the Genotype you may need to undergo combination therapy with three medications (Pegylated interferon, Ribavirin and Telaprevir or Boceprevir).
If you have or had any risk factors for Hepatitis C, talk to your doctor to be screened for Hepatitis C.