Hepatitis C is classified as a viral liver infection that can cause liver inflammation and damage. The virus that causes it is the Hepatitis C virus or HCV. It spreads through contact with contaminated blood. Most cases of Hepatitis C are in people who share needles. Hepatitis C affects around 2.4 million people in the U.S! The disease rarely causes any symptoms. As such, most people get diagnosed when the virus has already caused damage to the liver. Some people develop a short-term form of the illness. A majority, however, will develop chronic hepatitis C.
A lot of life-threatening problems come from the chronic form of this disease. These can include such things as liver cancer and cirrhosis. There are rarely any symptoms even in its chronic condition, and you may not even feel sick. When symptoms finally appear, they do so in the more advanced stages of liver disease. There is currently no Hepatitis C vaccine. Ensuring you don’t contract infection is the best way to avoid behaviors like sharing used needles. At the same time, Hepatitis C testing should be part of your regular health screening. Early detection means starting treatment early. This way, the disease doesn’t progress to life-threatening stages.
Types of Hepatitis C
This marks the time between when you are first exposed and when the disease takes root. The incubation period can last from 14 days to 80 days. The average incubation period is, however, 45 days. During these 45 days, there are no symptoms, and one is not even aware that they have the virus.
Acute Hepatitis C
After incubation, you may develop short-term or long-term illnesses. For example, acute hepatitis C is the short-term version of the disease and lasts for six months. After that, the virus will either clear on its own or through medication.
Chronic Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C virus will develop long-term illnesses. These illnesses can last for more than six months. Chronic hepatitis C is life-threatening. It can also lead to permanent liver damage due to conditions like cirrhosis and liver cancer.
The virus continues to cause damage to the liver through inflammation. Progression results in scar tissue replacing the healthy cells in the liver. It happens gradually and can take about 20 to 30 years to manifest severe symptoms. Underlying conditions like HIV and alcohol disorders can quicken the progression, though.
Liver cirrhosis doesn’t always lead to liver cancer. However, cirrhosis increases your risk of developing liver cancer. Liver cancer is life-threatening. If cancer progresses, it could spread to other healthy organs. A liver transplant is the best way of halting liver cancer progression.
Symptoms of Hepatitis C
The majority of people exposed to the hepatitis C virus don’t show any symptoms. However, depending on the disease progression, you may experience specific symptoms. They can appear within two weeks to six months after exposure.
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored stool
- Joint pain
- Jaundice due to liver damage
- Appetite loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach pain
These symptoms will typically last for about 2 to 12 weeks. As liver damage gets worse, you could notice symptoms like:
- Fluid buildup in the legs will lead to an abdominal cavity
- Encephalopathy, a condition where the brain doesn’t function properly
- Severe itching
- Unintentional muscle and weight loss
- Kidney failure
- Concentration and memory problems
- Veins on the skin that resemble a spider’s web
- Bloody vomit due to bleeding and inflammation in the lower esophagus
- You also get bruised and bleed easily
Diagnosis of Hepatitis C
Blood tests help diagnose hepatitis C. Your doctor will check the following:
Anti-HCV antibodies: When exposed to the hepatitis C virus, the body makes anti-HCV antibodies to fight the infection. These antibodies will show up in a test 12 weeks after exposure. Test results take about a week, but rapid tests are also available.
The results will either be negative or non-reactive or positive or reactive. Non-reactive results mean that you don’t have the virus. If exposure happens in the last six months, the doctor will need to retest your blood. Reactive results indicate that you have the antibodies in your blood. This means that you might have been exposed and infected. The doctor may carry out another test to confirm the diagnosis. If your antibody test returns positive results, you will get the HCV RNA test.
HCV RNA test: This test helps measure the viral RNA number in your body. RNA is the genetic material that comes from the hepatitis virus. It shows up in scans about a week or two after infection.
Liver function test: The doctor will also order a liver function test. The role of the test is to assess the enzyme and protein levels in the liver. These levels usually go up 7 to 8 weeks after getting infected. When liver damage begins, enzymes start leaking into the bloodstream.
How to Treat Hepatitis C
Acute hepatitis C doesn’t require treatment as the virus clears independently. However, if the virus doesn’t clear, the disease progresses to chronic hepatitis C. Several medications are available.
The most common medications for hepatitis C are interferon, ribavirin, and peginterferon. They can, however, cause sides effects like anemia, fatigue, skin rash, and nausea.
Other medications include Zepatier, Harvoni, Mavyret, Viekira Pak, Technivie, Sovaldi, Epclusa, and Vosevi.
How to Manage Hepatitis C
To halt the spread of hepatitis C, take the following measures;
- If you have hepatitis C, avoid sharing needles and other drug equipment
- If someone has an open sore, ensure you are wearing gloves
- Avoid sharing personal items! Things like razors, toothbrushes, and underwear should not be shared with others
- Practice safe sex and talk to your sexual partners about hepatitis C
- Is hepatitis C curable? If treatment starts early, hepatitis C is curable. That’s why hepatitis C testing at least once a year is essential so that you can begin treatment early.
- How high is the risk of getting hepatitis C sex through? The risk is usually low unless blood is present. The risk increases with bleeding when having anal sex or menstrual blood.
- Can I still breastfeed if I test positive for hepatitis C? Yes, no evidence suggests that hepatitis C can spread through breast milk.
Healthier Me Today is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment, always consult with your healthcare professional. Stay healthy!