All you need to know about Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by to Hepatitis C virus. Virus attacks the liver and causes inflammation. Viral transmissions, occurring when infected blood enters the body of an uninfected person, are one of the primary causes of hepatitis C. Hepatitis C has the potential to become a chronic condition, posing a risk of severe and life-threatening complications, including cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Did you know?

Globally, an estimated 60 million people are infected, and in India, it is believed that approximately 12 million individuals are living with Hepatitis C. The irony is that many people are not even aware of the fact that they have hepatitis C infection as they remain asymptomatic until significant harm has already occurred.

Mode of transmission of hepatitis C

Primarily direct contact with the blood of an infected person can cause hepatitis C infection. Some of the common modes of transmission may include:

  • Sharing personal sanitary items: Sharing razors, towels, toothbrushes, glucose monitors, nail clippers, etc, can potentially lead to transmission if they come into contact with infected blood. However, the risk is generally considered low.
  • Birth: A mother with HCV infection can transmit the virus to the unborn child during childbirth.
  • Organ transplants and blood transfusion: Rigorous screening of blood and organ donors is conducted to minimize the risk of transmission. This has significantly reduced the likelihood of acquiring hepatitis C through these means.
  • Sexual practices: Sexual practices that result in blood exposure, (such as having sex with multiple partners or men having sex with men) can spread hepatitis C; however, these modes of transmission are less common.
  • Sharing of syringes, needles, or other drug-injecting supplies: This is a well-established mode of transmission, especially among individuals who use injectable drugs. Reuse or improper sterilization of medical equipment can cause transmission.

Incubation Period

After exposure to the virus, the incubation period can be between two weeks to six months. Symptoms may not be present during the incubation period in some people.

Signs and symptoms of Hepatitis C

The majority of individuals infected with hepatitis C do not exhibit any symptoms. A few individuals may experience symptoms during the initial phase of infection, which can range from general flu-like symptoms to manifestations resembling those of liver disease, such as abdominal pain and jaundice. 

Other signs and Symptoms  may include 

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Jaundice
  • Dark urine
  • Pale stools 

Cirrhosis and liver cancer are among the many conditions that many people eventually develop from mild to severe chronic liver disease. In patients with hepatitis C, chronic liver disease typically develops gradually over several decades without any noticeable symptoms.

Management of Hepatitis C

Hepatitis can be diagnosed by blood tests that examine the presence of antibodies to the virus usually, an HCV antibody test is used for this purpose. If the initial test yields positive results, follow-up tests might be conducted such as HCV RNA tests to ascertain the virus’s genotype and liver function tests to assess liver damage for a more comprehensive diagnosis and treatment planning.

 

Current therapies for hepatitis C, cure over 90% with minimal side effects and typically only require 8–12 weeks of oral therapy or pills. Hepatitis C is usually treated with direct-acting antiviral (DAA) tablets. The length of treatment and choice of medication are determined by the hepatitis C genotype, degree of liver damage, and other medical conditions.

When should you consult a doctor?

It is important to seek help in case of suspicion of exposure to the virus. Situations when approaching a physician should be considered: 

  • If you have undergone a blood transfusion or an organ transplant before 1992. 
  • If you get a piercing or tattoo at an unregulated place. 
  • In case of exposure to the body fluids of a person with hepatitis C
  • If you have ever shared injecting supplies such as needles. 
  • When experiencing symptoms indicative of hepatitis C

Conclusion

Hepatitis C is a serious viral infection that often presents without noticeable symptoms, making it essential to consider testing in specific risk situations.  Timely detection, facilitated by blood tests and consultation with a healthcare professional, can enable effective management and cure, given the availability of advanced and efficient treatment options.

Myths and Facts associated with Hepatitis C

Myth 1: You cannot contract hepatitis C again after receiving treatment.

 

 

Fact: Once recovered from hepatitis C, it is still possible to get infected again. Reinfection can occur from persistent risk factors like drug injection usage or non-sterile tattooing.

Myth 2: Hepatitis C has No effective treatment.

 

Fact: The CDC estimates that over 90% of infected individuals can be cured with eight to twelve weeks of treatment, and there are numerous potent antiviral drugs available on the market.

Author: Sanika Pande

Reviewed by: Dr Aarti Nehra,
MBBS, MMST

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