Hepatitis C is a viral infection that affects the liver. It is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The infection can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe, lifelong illness. In some cases, it can lead to liver damage, liver failure, and even death.
Hepatitis C is primarily spread through contact with the blood of an infected person. This can happen through sharing needles or other injection equipment, receiving a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992, or being born to an infected mother. Hepatitis C is a serious public health concern, with an estimated 71 million people living with chronic infection worldwide. It is important to get tested if you think you may have been exposed to the virus.
There are several risk factors that can increase a person’s likelihood of contracting hepatitis C. These include:
- Sharing needles or other injection equipment: this is the most common mode of transmission for hepatitis C.
- Receiving a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992: before 1992, blood screening for hepatitis C was not as advanced, so some people who received blood transfusions or organ transplants before this time may have been exposed to the virus.
- Being born to a mother who is infected with hepatitis C: the virus can be transmitted from mother to baby during delivery.
- Having a history of injecting drugs: even if you did not inject drugs, but you have a history of being around people who did, you may have been exposed to the virus.
- Occupational exposure: health care workers and other people who come into contact with blood or other body fluids in their work are at risk of contracting hepatitis C.
- Having a history of piercings or tattoos: if equipment used is not properly sterilized, there is a risk of contracting hepatitis C.
- Having a weakened immune system: people with HIV or other conditions that weaken the immune system are at a higher risk of developing a chronic infection if they contract hepatitis C.
- Being a man who has sex with men: men who have sex with men are at a higher risk of contracting hepatitis C, particularly if they have multiple sexual partners or engage in unprotected sex.
It’s important to note that not all people who have these risk factors will develop hepatitis C, and some people who develop the disease may not have any identifiable risk factors.
Symptoms of hepatitis C can be similar to those of other types of viral hepatitis, such as hepatitis A and B, and can include:
- Loss of appetite.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Abdominal pain.
- Joint pain.
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).
Some people may not have any symptoms at all.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Diagnosis of hepatitis C is typically made through blood tests that detect antibodies or the virus particles in the blood.
A vaccine is not available for hepatitis C, but it can be prevented by avoiding risky behaviors. There are effective treatments for hepatitis C, including direct-acting antiviral medications, which can cure the infection in most cases. The specific treatment plan may vary depending on the individual’s condition, and the stage of the disease.
Antiviral therapy: antiviral medications are used for cure of hepatitis C which can also reduce inflammation in the liver. These medications can help to prevent liver damage and reduce the risk of complications. The most common medications used to treat hepatitis C are called direct-acting antiviral (DAA) drugs. They have a high cure rate (more than 95%) and few side effects.
Hepatitis C can lead to a number of complications if left untreated or if the infection becomes chronic. These complications can include:
- Cirrhosis: this is a condition in which the liver becomes scarred and unable to function properly. Symptoms of cirrhosis include fatigue, weakness, weight loss, and jaundice.
- Liver failure: this is a serious condition in which the liver stops working properly. Symptoms of liver failure include fatigue, weakness, confusion, and jaundice.
- Liver cancer: chronic infection with hepatitis C increases the risk of developing liver cancer. Symptoms of liver cancer can include abdominal pain, weight loss, and jaundice.
- Other health problems: people with chronic hepatitis C may also be at an increased risk of developing other health problems, such as kidney disease, diabetes, and bone disease.
- Acute-on-chronic liver failure: this is a serious condition that occurs when acute liver failure develops in a person who already has chronic liver disease, which can be fatal in some cases.
It’s important to note that not all people with hepatitis C will develop these complications, and the rate of complication depends on the stage of the disease, response to treatment, and other underlying conditions. Regular monitoring of liver function is important to detect these complications early and to prevent severe damage. Therefore, people with chronic hepatitis C should see a healthcare provider for regular checkups and monitoring of their liver function.
There are six main types of hepatitis C virus (HCV), known as genotypes, which are identified by their genetic makeup. These genotypes are numbered 1-6. The most common genotypes of HCV in the world are genotypes 1 and 3. A healthcare provider can perform a blood test to determine the genotype of the virus and to help guide the treatment plan.
Hepatitis C is primarily spread through contact with the blood of an infected person. This can happen through sharing needles or other injection equipment, receiving a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992, or being born to an infected mother.
Symptoms of hepatitis C can include fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements, joint pain, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). Some people may not have any symptoms at all.
A healthcare provider will typically diagnose hepatitis C based on symptoms, medical history, and laboratory tests. Blood tests can detect antibodies to the virus, or the virus itself.
Yes, there are effective treatments for hepatitis C, including direct-acting antiviral medications, which can cure the infection in the majority of cases.
Yes, hepatitis C can be prevented by avoiding risky behaviors such as sharing needles or other injection equipment, and by getting tested if you think you may have been exposed to the virus. Current guidelines state all adult patients and at risk patients should have at least a one time screening test done for hepatitis C.
If a person is re-exposed to the virus, they may develop another chronic infection.
The duration of hepatitis C varies depending on the individual’s immune response, for some people the virus may clear from the body within a few weeks, but for others it can become a chronic infection.
Symptoms of hepatitis C typically appear 1-4 months after exposure to the virus.
Chronic hepatitis C can lead to serious health problems such as cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer. These complications can develop over many years and may not have symptoms until they are advanced.
Yes, with proper treatment and management, people with chronic hepatitis C can lead normal lives. However, it’s important to work closely with a healthcare provider to develop an individualized management plan that is appropriate for your specific situation.
Some people may not have any symptoms of hepatitis C and may not know that they are infected. A healthcare provider can perform a blood test to determine if a person has chronic hepatitis C, based on the presence of specific markers in the blood.
Yes, there is a cure for chronic hepatitis C, with the help of antiviral therapy.
The side effects of the treatment for hepatitis C vary depending on the specific medications and the individual’s health. Common side effects of direct-acting antiviral drugs include fatigue, headaches, and nausea. These side effects usually disappear within a few days after the treatment finishes.