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Hepatitis C: Information on Causes, Diagnosis & Treatments

Liver Virus Hepatitis Hepatitis C is a viral infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus that can eventually lead to liver failure, liver cancer, or cirrhosis of the liver. The disease is spread by contact with an individual who has blood infected by the virus. Many people who acquire the disease are unaware that they have the infection until the liver becomes so damaged that it presents common symptoms.

Hepatitis C is different than Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B diseases that are all caused by three very specific and different viruses. Even though each of hepatitis because of similar symptoms, they are transmitted differently. Individuals with hepatitis A develop the disease through a newly occurring infection that never becomes chronic. These people tend to heal from the disease without the need of treatment. Hepatitis B and hepatitis C start as acute infections that can develop into a long-term chronic disease and/or liver problems.

Even though scientists have developed vaccines that prevent hepatitis A at hepatitis B, no vaccination has been developed to prevent people from acquiring hepatitis C. In addition, if the individual has had any form of viral hepatitis infection in the past, they have the potential of developing any form of hepatitis in the future even if they have had the vaccination for hepatitis A or hepatitis B.

Forms of Hepatitis C

The contagious liver disease can result in a mild to severe illness that can last just a few weeks or over a lifetime. The hepatitis C virus (HCB) spreads primarily by coming into contact with the blood of an individual who has been infected with the hepatitis C virus. The two different forms of the disease include acute and chronic.

  • Acute Hepatitis C – This viral infection usually produces a short-term illness that can last for 6 months after the individual has been exposed to HCV (hepatitis C virus). However, acute infections can easily degrade to chronic infections even with treatment.

  • Chronic Hepatitis C – This viral infection produces a long-term illness because the virus never leaves the body. A lifelong viral infection can often cause serious liver issues including liver cancer, or scarring of the liver (cirrhosis).

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What Causes Hepatitis C?

In 2014, CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reported an estimated 31,000 new cases of acute hepatitis C and nearly 3.9 million cases of chronic hepatitis C in the United States. Approximately one out of every eight individuals infected with the hepatitis C virus developed a serious chronic infection.

Typically, hepatitis C is spread between people by blood contact when the life-threatening virus is transmitted from one individual affected with the disease to one who is not infected. The main factors involving the transmission of hepatitis C virus includes sharing needles or sharing equipment that injects medications. Before 1992 when the U.S. Government began screening blood supplies, the disease was usually spread through organ transplants and blood transfusions. The most common activities involving the transmission of hepatitis C involve:

  • Sharing a Syringe , needle or other equipment that can inject medications

  • A needle stick injury that occurs in a health care environment

  • Children who are born to mothers already infected with hepatitis C

  • Sexual Contact with others infected with hepatitis C

  • Sharing Personal Items including toothbrushes and razor blades belonging to an individual infected with the virus

  • Getting a Piercing or Tattoo in an environment that has poor infection control practices including unregulated settings, informal environments, and prison/jails

  • Direct Skin Exposure with a member of the household who has HCV infected blood

  • Direct Contact with Dried Blood typically involving blood spills can also infect an individual who is not previously infected with the virus.

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Who Is at Risk for Hepatitis C?

Some individuals have an increased potential risk for developing hepatitis see virus infection. These include:

  • Current illegal drug users who inject medications

  • Past illegal drug users who injected one or more times years ago

  • Recipients of organ transplants, blood products and donated blood – usually in areas outside the United States without highly regulated blood products.

  • Recipients of blood clotting products prior to 1987

  • Individuals who receive tattoos or body piercings with instruments that were not properly sterilized

  • Individuals affected by HIV

  • Individuals who have received hemodialysis over the years to treat kidney failure

  • Patients previously exposed to the hepatitis C virus including health care workers injured by needle stick accidents, transplant recipients and donated blood recipients tested positive for HCV

  • Children born to mothers who are previously infected with the virus

  • Individuals that had sexual contact with those infected with the virus

  • Individuals who share personal items including a toothbrush or razor blade of an individual infected with HCV

Only approximately five percent of all mothers infected with HCV will pass the infection to their baby. However, this number rises significantly if the mother has acquired both hepatitis C and the HIV infection.

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Common Symptoms

Nearly eight out of every ten individuals with acute hepatitis C never display any symptoms at all. However, some individuals can present mild to severe symptoms almost immediately after becoming infected. Common hepatitis C symptoms include:

  • Fatigue

  • Fever

  • Unexpected weight loss

  • Loss of appetite

  • Abdominal pain

  • Vomiting and nausea

  • Joint pain

  • Clay-colored bowel movements

  • Dark urine

  • Yellowing of the eyes or skin (jaundice)

On average, symptoms will typically occur 6 to 7 weeks after the initial exposure to the virus. However, this number can range between 2 weeks and 6 months. In most cases, symptoms never present themselves at all unless the condition becomes chronic.

Chronic hepatitis C infections can lead to the development of chronic liver disease and/or cirrhosis of the liver (that can occur over two to three decades). Twenty percent of all individuals suffering from liver cancer and cirrhosis the liver will die from those conditions.

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Diagnosing and Treating Hepatitis C

To date, no vaccination has been developed to prevent hepatitis C. However, because of recent advancements in medical technology, it takes just a simple blood test to verify a diagnosis of hepatitis C. In recent years, successful treatments for the condition had changed considerably with the January 2016 approval by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) of highly effective medications that have produced very successful outcomes.

Doctors can now prescribe a once-daily medicine combination of Zepatier (grazoprevir) and elbasvir that has a cure rate of nearly 100 percent. In addition, doctors can also prescribe Harvoni, a once-daily treatment that has a nearly 100 percent success rate of 8 to 12 weeks in most individuals. This prescription combines ledipasvir and Solvaldi (sofosbuvir) that have simple side effects including headaches and fatigue.

Until the infected individual has been cured of hepatitis C, they should be routinely monitored by an experienced health care provider and avoid consuming alcohol because it can lead to extensive liver damage and potential death. In addition, the individual affected with hepatitis C should check with her doctor before taking any supplements, prescription medications, or over-the-counter (OTC) drugs that could potentially cause considerable damage to the liver quickly or over an extended amount of time.

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