Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a liver disease that is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Hepatitis results in the inflammation of the liver and can lead to serious liver problems and other health complications.

Hepatitis C is transmitted when the infected person’s blood enters the body of a person that’s not infected with the disease; this can occur, for example, during a blood transfusion.

Approximately 170 million people worldwide are carriers of the disease.

How is Hepatitis C Transmitted?

Sharing needles for the use of drugs can also spread HCV. This is the top cause of transmission of the disease.

Infected mothers can pass on the disease to their infants at birth.

Hepatitis C can also be spread during sexual intercourse, although this is rare.

Who’s At Risk for Hepatitis C?

Any man, woman or child can contract Hepatitis C. But there are certain factors that can increase your risk of contracting the disease. People most at risk for the disease are:

  • people who have taken drugs via an injection, even if it was only on one occasion
  • babies born to infected mothers
  • people who received blood transfusions, blood products or organ donations prior to 1992, when tests for HCV were introduced
  • health care workers, who are prone to needle stick accidents
  • Some factors that slightly increase the risk of developing Hepatitis C are: certain types of sexual behavior (for example, having multiple partners, having a partner who has an STD); sharing personal care equipment (for example, sharing toothbrushes and razors, which can contain traces of blood); and sharing equipment for snorting cocaine.

    Symptoms of Hepatitis C

    Eighty percent of people infected with Hepatitis C don’t experience any signs or symptoms of the disease.

    However there are symptoms associated with Hepatitis C. These symptoms are:

  • abdominal pain
  • jaundice
  • nausea
  • loss of appetite
  • dark urine
  • fatigue
  • Complications of Hepatitis C

    Hepatitis C can result in several health complications, above all with regard to the liver.

    Seventy percent of individuals with Hepatitis C develop chronic liver disease while 55-85% of people with Hepatitis C develop chronic liver infection.

    People with Hepatitis C are also at risk for Hepatitis B and HIV.

    Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplants.

    One to five percent of people with Hepatitis C can die from it.

    Hepatitis C and Pregnancy

    Four in every 100 infants born to women with HCV contract the disease from their mothers. Perinatal transmission is increased by up to 19% if the infant’s mother is co-infected with HIV.

    However pregnant women are not more likely to be infected with Hepatitis C than women who are not pregnant.

    There is no evidence to suggest that women infected with HCV should not breastfeed. However these women should avoid breastfeeding if their nipples are cracked or bleeding.

    Diagnosing Hepatitis C

    The most effective way to diagnose Hepatitis C is through blood testing. The anti-HCV test procedure (antibody to HCV) is a two-fold test. First, an EIA (enzyme immunoassay) or CIA (enhance chemiluminescence immunoassay) test is performed. If the result for this test is positive, a second supplemental test, known as a RIBA (recombinant immunoblot assay) test is performed to avoid a false diagnosis.

    However, this method of testing can’t distinguish whether the infection is new (acute), chronic (long-term) or whether the disease is no longer present in the blood system.

    Other tests that can be performed to detect Hepatitis C are: qualitative tests (which determine whether the HCV virus is present or not); and quantitative tests (which determine the amount, or titer, of the virus present in the individual’s blood stream).

    Treatment for Hepatitis C

    Unfortunately there is no cure for Hepatitis C.

    However there are licensed drugs available to treat chronic forms of the disease. For chronic Hepatitis C, a combination therapy of pegylated interferion and ribavirin is the most effective drug therapy.

    It is also advisable to avoid alcohol to prevent the exacerbation of symptoms related to Hepatitis C and to prevent further liver damage.

    Preventing Hepatitis C

    Unlike Hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine for Hepatitis C. However there are ways to help prevent the disease.

    Methods of prevention include:

  • not shooting drugs via a needle
  • not sharing personal care items that may contain blood, such as razors and toothbrushes
  • always using latex condoms during sexual intercourse, particularly if you or your partner have Hepatitis C
  • not donating blood, organs or tissues if you are HCV positive.
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