Hepatitis C is the most common contagious, blood-borne viral liver disease. And, most individuals with hepatitis C do not realize that they actually have it.
Spread by blood-to-blood contact, the disease also spreads primarily by the use of injectable drugs. While there are immunizations available against hepatitis A and B, unfortunately, it is not so for Hepatitis C. To avoid infection, it is important to avoid exposure to the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Read on to know more about this disease.
Why is the liver important?
The largest internal organ in the body, the liver is absolutely vital for survival. It has a lot of vital functions:
- Produces bile, a mixture of chemicals, which aids digestion.
- Helps break down food to turn it into energy.
- Removes harmful substances from the blood, helping fight infection.
- Makes chemicals that are important for blood clotting.
- Stores iron, vitamins and other essential substances.
What is Hepatitis C?
Liver disease caused by HCV (Hepatitis C virus) is called Hepatitis C. HCV causes inflammation of the liver and prevents it from working well. Generally, HCV leads to chronic or long-term infection of the liver. Unless successfully treated with medications, HCV can lead to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), liver failure and liver cancer.
What does not cause Hepatitis C?
- HCV does not spread by coughing, hugging, sneezing, or casual contact
- HCV does not spread by sharing utensils, water or food, or drinking glasses
Patients during the early phase of HCV show no symptoms and feel healthy. When the disease progresses resulting in liver cirrhosis, they display symptoms such as
- Loss of appetite
- Skin itching,
- Dark urine, and Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).
Once liver failure occurs, patients develop swelling of the legs (edema), fluid in the abdomen (ascites), vomiting of blood, and mental confusion.
HCV is spread by blood to blood contact. You may be at risk if you have:
- Used intravenous medications in the past as well as shared needles for injecting these medicines
- Received blood transfusion in the past, particularly from unregulated blood banks
- Chronic kidney disease and are on haemodialysis
- Contact with infected needles or blood
- Unprotected sex with multiple partners
- Got tattooing done
What are the long term results of Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C slowly damages the liver over a period of 20 to 30 years. Hepatitis C, if untreated, can progress to liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and over 50 percent of patients with untreated Hepatitis C may develop liver cirrhosis. And, if cirrhosis develops, patients are at a greater risk of developing liver failure and about 5-10 percent of them develop liver cancer.
Hepatitis C is diagnosed by simple blood tests. Specialized tests reveal the amount of virus in a patient’s blood. A liver function test and an ultrasound scan of the liver can thoroughly assess its state. A special scan called Fibroscan can determine the severity of disease and whether one has reached the stage of cirrhosis. Sometimes, a liver biopsy may be required.
What you should do if you are diagnosed with Hepatitis C?
You should talk to a liver disease specialist regarding treatment for Hepatitis C. With the availability of newer antiviral drugs, treatment has become very simple. You must also get your spouse and other close family members checked for Hepatitis C.
There is an effective treatment for HCV infection:
- Directly Acting Anti-viral drugs (DAA): These new drugs include Sofosbuvir, Daclatasvir and Ledipasvir.
Most patients are cured within three months of treatment. Some patients who have advanced disease, or who have failed treatment in the past may require longer treatment – up to 6 months. Such therapies are effective in curing 90% of patients. Even patients who have failed treatment in the past or who have an advanced liver disease can be effectively cured.
How are patients with Hepatitis C and liver failure treated?
When patients with HCV progress to cirrhosis and liver failure, their treatment with medicines is not possible. The only option for such patients is to undergo liver transplantation. Overall, about 10 percent of patients with Hepatitis C require the procedure. The risk of the new liver getting re-infected with Hepatitis C is there but can be easily treated with modern antiviral drugs.
What is an effective way to stop the spread of Hepatitis C?
There is no vaccine to prevent HCV. The only way to stop the spread of HCV is to avoid direct contact with infected blood.
- Ensure healthcare providers use clean and sterile equipment and do not reuse injection needles.
- Ensure that blood being transfused is from an authorized private / government blood bank.
- Practice safe sex.
- Use clean needles and equipment for tattoos, ear and nose piercings.
- Avoid sharing toothbrushes, razors or other personal items with others.
HEPATITIS C – FACTS AT A GLANCE
- Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by HCV (Hepatitis C virus).
- HCV is spread by direct contact with infected blood.
- About 0.5 to 1 percent of the population is HCV positive.
- Most people with HCV have no symptoms.
- HCV can be diagnosed by a simple blood test.
- HCV causes progressive liver disease and leads to liver cirrhosis and liver failure.
- HCV may cause liver cancer.
- HCV can be effectively treated with medications.
- There is no vaccine available to prevent Hepatitis C.