Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. The liver serves many functions in the body, including detoxification, digestion, protection against infection, protein and hormone production, and many more. Heavy alcohol use, certain medications, toxins, and infections can cause hepatitis. Persistent hepatitis can lead to scarring of the liver called cirrhosis. Cirrhosis occurs when the liver has been severely damaged. A cirrhotic liver does not function as well as a healthy liver. It can result in complications such as bleeding from the esophagus and stomach, yellowing of the skin (jaundice), and fluid accumulation in the abdomen.
What Is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus. Most patients will have little or no symptoms when they get infected. Often, patients can have hepatitis C for many years without knowing they have it. About 80 % of patients who get hepatitis C do not clear the infection on their own. When infection persists for over six months, it is called chronic hepatitis C. Hepatitis C slowly damages the liver over decades, leading to cirrhosis and liver cancer. The virus exists worldwide.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a silent infection that persists unidentifiable for a long time. However, the common signs and symptoms of the condition are:
How Is Hepatitis C Diagnosed?
Hepatitis C can be diagnosed using blood tests. One blood test detects the presence of an antibody directed against the virus, and the second test measures the amount of virus in your blood. A liver ultrasound is usually done to assess for cirrhosis or signs of liver cancer. Often, a FibroScan is also performed. This specialized machine measures the degree of fibrosis (scarring) in your liver.
How Is Hepatitis C Transmitted?
Most people do not know how they acquired hepatitis C. The virus is spread by contact with blood. Today, the most common way people get Hepatitis C is by sharing used needles, syringes, or any other equipment to inject drugs. Before widespread screening of blood donors in 1992, Hepatitis C was also spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. Other methods of transmission are:
Getting body piercings or tattoos done with improperly sanitized equipment.
Sharing straws used for snorting cocaine.
Sharing toothbrushes, razors, or other things that could have blood on them.
Getting stuck with a sharp object that has contaminated blood on it.
Having sex with an infected person.
Hepatitis C is not transmitted by kissing or hugging, sneezing or coughing, skin-to-skin contact that does not involve blood, and sharing food and utensils.
Who Should Get Tested for Hepatitis C?
Individuals born between 1945 and 1965.
Individuals who received or donated blood before 1992.
Individuals who use injection drugs.
Men who have sex with men (MSM).
Individuals with a history of past or present use of chronic hemodialysis.
History of or present incarceration.
Individuals who reside in a high-prevalence country.
Individual born to a mother with hepatitis C.
Individuals exposed to blood from a person with hepatitis C.
How Can Hepatitis C Infection Be Prevented?
Unfortunately, there is currently no vaccine. Prevention of blood exposure is the primary strategy. Do not share used needles or syringes. Do not share personal hygiene items that may have come into contact with a person’s infected blood, such as razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers, or glucose monitors. Do not get tattoos or piercings from an unlicensed facility.
Preventing Further Liver Damage: If you have hepatitis C, avoiding other insults to your liver is essential. Avoid heavy alcohol consumption and get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B. Check with your healthcare provider before starting any new medications to ensure they are safe for your liver. Sometimes your doctor will also need to evaluate you for other liver diseases.
Is There a Cure for Hepatitis C?
Yes, the medications used to treat hepatitis C are highly effective, with up to a 100 % cure rate with little to no side effects. Treatment is usually prescribed by a gastroenterologist, hepatologist, infectious disease doctor, or another healthcare provider trained in hepatitis C management. A treatment course of 8 to12 weeks is usually sufficient to eradicate the hepatitis C virus. For some patients, a longer course of 16 or 24 weeks may be required to achieve a cure.
Can an Individual Get Re-Infected with Hepatitis C?
Yes, an individual can get hepatitis C again if exposed to infected blood. Being cured does not mean you cannot get the virus again. If you acquired hepatitis C from engaging in high-risk behaviors, it is essential to discontinue risky behaviors to avoid reinfection.
What Should a Pregnant Woman Do if She Has Hepatitis C?
Unfortunately, about 5 % of pregnant women pass on the virus to their babies. Currently, hepatitis C treatment has not been studied in pregnancy, so it is unknown if the drugs are safe. Therefore, it is usually best to wait until the mother delivers before starting hepatitis C treatment. The baby will require serial blood tests to check if they have become infected.
If you are planning pregnancy, it is best to get treated for hepatitis C before you conceive.
Can a Mother Breastfeed if She Is Infected With Hepatitis C?
She can breastfeed as long as her nipples are not cracked or bleeding.
Can Breastfeeding Mothers Take Hepatitis C Medications?
It is unknown if hepatitis C medications pass into the breastmilk. It is still possible to receive treatment for hepatitis C while breastfeeding, but it is unknown what effects the medicines will have on the baby. The safest approach is to complete breastfeeding before starting hepatitis C treatment.
Many people with HCV are unaware of the infection since they do not have symptoms. And it may take certain decades to appear. To avoid this unawareness, doctors recommend that every healthy or unhealthy individual between the ages of 18 to 79 get screened for hepatitis C. This early identification of the virus would help prevent transmission and treatment of the affected individual.
Frequently Asked Questions