Hepatitis C is a viral disease caused by the hepatitis C virus. Hepatitis C virus is one of the several viruses that causes hepatitis which leads to inflammation of the liver. Most people who have hepatitis C don’t even know they have the disease. The disease can be asymptomatic until years later when liver damage has already occurred. It can also be detected during a routine medical exam. The virus is spread mostly through coming into contact with infected blood usually through needles shared during illegal drug use. This contagious liver disease can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. There is currently no vaccine against hepatitis C. The disease can however be cured using antivirals.
Hepatitis is caused by hepatitis C virus (HCV). It spreads when you come into contact with contaminated blood. Coming into contact with contaminated blood can occur through:
- sharing contaminated needles when injecting drugs.
- sexual contact with infected person although this is rare
- child-birth if mother is infected
Some people or some factors may put one at high risk of getting hepatitis C. These include the following:
Coming into contact with blood at work. Example health-care workers.
Injecting yourself with illegal drugs.
If you received a blood transfusion before July 1992 or clotting factor concentrates before 1987.
If you were born to a mother infected with hepatitis C.
Sharing personal items such as toothbrushes and razors with a person infected with hepatitis C.
A long history of kidney dialysis or HIV disease.
Having a sexual encounter with a hepatitis C infected individual
Hepatitis is usually asymptomatic in it’s early stages. Some people don’t show any symptoms until liver damage has already occur. Symptoms, when they occur include the following :
- nausea and vomiting
- loss of appetite
- abdominal pain
- dark urine
- joint and muscle pain
- clay colored or pale stool
- abdominal swelling
TEST AND DIAGNOSIS
There are several diagnostic tests available for this disease.
Screening Test : Screening tests are particularly useful for individuals who are at high risk of getting the disease. This is very helpful to diagnose the disease before liver damage starts as hepatitis C may not show any symptoms in early stages.
Blood Test : This is done to check if you have the hepatitis C virus and to check your viral load – the amount of virus in your blood. It is also done to determine the genetic makeup of the virus (genotyping) which is helpful in choosing a treatment option. Enzyme-linked immuno assay detects hepatitis C antibodies and hepatitis C RNA assay is used to measure virus levels (viral load). Genetic testing is also done to check for the hepatitis C genotype.
- Most Americans have genotype 1 infection, which is the hardest to treat.
- Genotypes 2 and 3 are also common and these people respond better to treatment.
Liver Biopsy : It is done to show how much damage has been done to the liver. During this procedure, a small sample of liver tissue is removed for laboratory testing.
The main goal of treatment is to remove the virus from the blood and prevent liver damage. Treatment may not always be necessary. If your case is a very mild form, doctors may recommend follow-up blood test to monitor liver for abnormalities.
Antiviral medications : These remove the virus from the blood. They may include a combination of treatments. The doctor will recommend a second round of dose, if the first dose of treatment does not clear up all the virus in the blood.
Liver Transplant. This is recommended for patients who have had substantial damage to the liver. The diseased liver is removed and replaced with a healthy liver from a donor. Liver transplant is not a cure for this disease. Patients may need antiviral medication to clear the virus from the blood.
Vaccination against hepatitis A and B is recommended. It does not prevent hepatitis C but these separate viruses can also cause liver damage and complicate treatment of hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C can present complications like liver cancer, cirrhosis and liver failure.
You can protect yourself from this disease by following the following precautions.
Stop using illicit drugs.
Avoid contact with blood or blood products whenever possible.
Be cautious about body piercing and tattoos.
Practice safer sex behaviors to avoid hepatitis C as well as other sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and hepatitis B.