Hepatitis C

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Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes inflammation in the liver. Sometimes, it may cause serious damage to the liver. The virus (HCV or hepatitis C virus) transmits through contaminated blood. Nearly 50 percent of the population is unaware of the fact that they are suffering from hepatitis C. This is mainly because the symptoms don’t appear until the infection advances. Most people suffering from liver disease undergo screening for hepatitis C.

Causes of Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C Virus causes hepatitis C infection. When blood contaminated with the virus enters the bloodstream of a healthy individual, the infection spreads. There are several forms of HCV known as genotypes. There are more than 67 subtypes of the virus. Type 1 is the most common HCV genotype. Irrespective of the genotype of the infecting virus, chronic hepatitis C follows the same course. However, the treatment recommendations may vary for each of the viral genotypes.

Symptoms of Hepatitis C

Chronic hepatitis C is a long-term infection with the hepatitis C virus. Chronic hepatitis C virus is a silent infection that shows symptoms when the virus damages the liver that is serious enough to indicate signs of liver disease. Chronic hepatitis C infection begins with an acute phase. The doctor may not be able to diagnose acute hepatitis C as it doesn’t show symptoms early. When the signs & symptoms start appearing, they may include fever, fatigue, jaundice, muscle aches, and nausea.

The acute symptoms start appearing at least two months after exposure to the virus and may last for 14 days to almost 3 months. It does not necessarily turn to chronic infection. Some people relieve the hepatitis C virus in the acute phase itself from their bodies, the process known as spontaneous viral clearance. Nearly 25 percent of the people diagnosed with a ute hepatitis C virus cleared the virus off their bodies through spontaneous viral clearance. However, antiviral therapy is also effective for the clearance of the virus from the body. The symptoms of hepatitis C virus are:

  • Yellow discoloration of the skin and the eyes.
  • Drowsiness, confusion, and slurred speech.
  • Easy bruising and bleeding
  • Fluid buildup in the abdomen termed as ascites.
  • Poor appetite
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Itchy skin
  • Spider angiomas or spider-like blood vessels on the skin.

Screening for Hepatitis C

Doctors recommend all the people of the ages between 18 years to 79 years to undergo screening for hepatitis C. Even those who don’t show symptoms must undergo screening for hepatitis C. The screening for the hepatitis C virus is crucial for the people who are at a higher risk for exposure to the virus. The people may be:

  • Health care and emergency workers exposed to blood or needle stick injuries while working
  • People who got blood transfusions before 1992 or organs transplants during that period
  • People who were in prison
  • Anyone who injected on inhaled illicit drugs
  • People with HIV infection
  • People having abnormal liver function test results without any noticeable cause
  • Anybody born between 1945 to 1965
  • People with a history of long-term hemodialysis treatment
  • Babies born to mothers suffering from hepatitis C infection
  • Sexual partners of anybody diagnosed with hepatitis C
  • People with hemophilia treated with clotting factors before 1987.

Other tests

If the results of the initial blood tests show the presence of hepatitis C infection, then you need to undergo additional blood tests. These blood tests will identify the genotype of the virus. They will also measure the quantity of the hepatitis C virus in the blood.

Liver damage tests

  • Magnetic Resonance Elastography (MRE) – This is a non-invasive alternative. It combines magnetic resonance imaging technology with the patterns of the sound waves bouncing off the liver to create visual maps that show gradients of stiffness throughout the liver. One may observe the presence of scarring of the liver, also called fibrosis, because of chronic hepatitis C if the liver tissue if stiff.
  • Transient Elastography – This is another non-invasive test. It is a type of ultrasound that allows the transmission of vibrations into the liver. It measures the speed of the dispersal of the vibrations through the liver tissue to estimate the stiffness of the liver.
  • Liver biopsy- Done under the ultrasound guidance, it involves the insertion of a thin needle through the wall of the abdomen. The doctor carries out this for the removal of a small sample of liver tissue to carry out laboratory testing.
  • Blood tests- A number of blood tests show the extent of fibrosis in the liver.

Treatment Options of Hepatitis C

Antiviral medications​

Your doctor will prescribe you the antiviral medications to treat hepatitis C infection in your body. These medications intend to remove the virus from your body. The main aim of the treatment is to have complete absence of the hepatitis C virus in your body at least 12 weeks after completion of the treatment. Now, there are significant advances in the treatment for hepatitis C virus infection. These advances involve the use of “direct-acting” antiviral medications which you need to take alone or in a combination with the existing treatments.

The new advances show better results with fewer side effects and short treatment time. Some of the treatments are as short as eight weeks. The hepatitis C genotype determines the choice of medications and the length of the treatment. Not just this, the existing liver damage, prior treatment, and other medical conditions are also a factor.

Liver transplantation

If the complications of hepatitis C infection are serious, liver transplantation is the option for you. In a majority of the cases, liver transplantation alone cannot cure hepatitis C infection. The infection may return, requiring antiviral medications to prevent any kind of damage to thr transplanted liver.

Vaccinations

There are no vaccines yet for hepatitis C infection. However, your doctor may ask you to receive the vaccines for hepatitis A and hepatitis B viruses. Both these viruses have the potential to cause liver damage and complicate chronic hepatitis C.

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