Hepatitis C is a liver condition caused by a virus and is highly contagious. Though it has symptoms in common with other Hepatitis strains, the method by which it is transmitted is different from the others. It can start off mildly and become a lifelong illness, leading to serious health issues.
Hepatitis C is caused by the Hepatitis virus and is spread through contact with the blood from an infected person. Infections can be caused by:
Sharing needles and other drug paraphernalia
Injuries from needles and equipment in hospitals
Infection to a child from a pregnant mother
Sharing toothbrushes and other personal care items with an infected person
Sexual contact with an infected person
Tattoo parlors where equipment is not sterilized or handled properly
What are the Symptoms?
Most people with Hepatitis C don’t have any overt symptoms. For those who present symptoms, they can range from mild to severe. Symptoms include:
Loss of appetite and nausea
Vomiting and pain in the abdomen
Clay colored stools
Dark colored urine
Yellowing of skin and eyes
How is it Diagnosed?
Since Hepatitis C can exist in the body without presenting symptoms, tests are usually recommended to diagnose the condition. It is quite common for people with Hepatitis C to have fluctuating liver enzyme levels. This has to be checked frequently over a 12 month period to ensure that they are healthy. People who meet the following criteria should get checked for the virus.
Current or former injection drug users
Got treated for a blood clotting disorder prior to 1987
Received an organ transplant/blood transfusion before 1992
Patients on long term dialysis
People with abnormal liver test results
Those who work in the health care industry and were exposed to blood or injuries
People with HIV AIDS
What Tests are Available for Hepatitis C?
There are several tests used to screen for Hepatitis C and also to prescribe a course of treatment. Specific tests include
HCV antibody tests are the most common – these tests do indicate the presence of antibodies which are produced upon exposure. This test cannot indicate whether it is an active or an old infection.
The HCV RNA test helps in pinpointing a current or old infection.
The HCV Viral Load test helps in detecting the viral particles of RNA in blood. These tests are used before and also during treatments to determine if they are effective.
Viral genotyping is used to determine the specific type of virus present in the body. Since there are 6 types and not all respond to treatment regimens the same way. Doctors can decide what treatment and how long to treat patients.
How is it Treated?
Since the goal is to try and cure patients with the Hepatitis C virus, there are combinations of drugs which can be used effectively. This will depend on factors like genotype of the virus, viral load present in the system, past treatments if any, extent of liver damage, tolerance for treatment cycle, medicines to be used and whether a person requires a transplant or had a transplant already. In many cases, treatment options are determined by insurance coverage.
Some of the medications available are Harvoni, Technivie, Viekira Pak, Grazoprevir, Elbasivir, Asunaprevir, Declatasivir, PegIntron and Pegasys. Except for these medications, there are no vaccines available.
How can Hepatitis C be prevented? What precautions should one take?
There are quite a few things that people can do to prevent Hepatitis C infection from spreading. They are:
Workers in the health care industry should take precautions while handling blood.
Regular people and drug users should not share needles with others.
Make sure that tattoos are done only at licensed parlors.
Acupuncture treatments should be done with clean needles.
Personal items like toothbrushes and razors should not be shared.
Practicing safe sex is always recommended, regardless of a monogamous or other relationship.
Keep in mind that Hepatitis C is contagious only when one comes in contact with the blood of an infected person. It does not spread through coughing, sharing dishes or holding hands.