Then How Do You Know If You Have It
The only way to know for sure is to get tested. Doctors use a blood test to scan for specific chemicals that the virus releases into the bloodstream.
The CDC made a big push in 2013 to educate baby boomers about the virus, and encourage them to get tested. If you’re never been tested, especially if you have risk factors like previous intravenous drug use, it can’t hurt to talk to your doctor about it.
Risk Of Hcv Infection
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that can lead to decreased liver function. Hepatitis can be caused by toxins, including alcohol and certain medications, or it can be caused by a virus. HCV is the virus that causes hepatitis C, or hep C. It is one of the most common hepatitis viruses.
HCV is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact. Before we had a screening test for hep C in 1992, most people got infected through blood transfusions. This explains why baby boomers, those born between 1945 and 1965, are five times more likely to have the virus.
Today, most people with the virus get infected by sharing needles or other equipment for injecting drugs. Recent research has shown that the growing opioid epidemic is driving up rates of hep C infection, especially among young people. In addition, the prison population is at high risk for infection because of the high number of injection drug users who enter correctional facilities who are already living with hep C. Inside prisons, hep C is transmitted through injection drug use and unsafe practices for tattoos and piercings. It is estimated that one in three people in U.S. jails and prisons have HCV.
Hep C can be transmitted through sexual activity however, this is rare and most likely to happen if a person is already living with HIV or another sexually transmitted infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 25% of people living with HIV also have HCV.
Prevention Is The Best Medicine
Even though hepatitis C rarely spreads within a household, if you or a family member have the disease, it’s wise to take precautions to prevent its spread especially if anyone in your home is immune compromised, or has cuts or open sores that increase the risk of infection.
In general, use these common sense preventive tips:
- Unless you are in a long-term, monogamous relationship, practice safe sex.
- Clean up spilled or dried blood with a bleach-based cleaning solution and wear rubber gloves.
- Do not share razors.
- Do not share toothbrushes. “Though hepatitis C is not transmitted through saliva, there might be blood on the toothbrush,” Reau says.
Note that hepatitis C is not transmitted by sharing eating utensils, hugging, kissing, coughing or sneezing.
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If You Have Hepatitis C Should You Get A Flu Shot
Yes. Having chronic hepatitis C is actually a good reason to get the flu shot. Chronic hepatitis C is a condition that can increase your risk of complications if you do get influenza. That’s why it is recommended for people with hepatitis C, and most chronic liver diseases, to be vaccinated against the flu.
To stay up to date with your influenza vaccinations, you need to be vaccinated every year–ideally, early in the flu season or as soon as the vaccine becomes available. Typically, flu season is considered to be October to March. It’s best to get vaccinated annually because the vaccine is designed differently each year to target the strains of influenza that are expected to circulate during that particular flu season.
How Does Hepatitis C Progress
When someone is first infected with hepatitis C, most likely they have no symptoms and are unaware. Occasionally people experience fatigue, loss of appetite, weakness or sometimes having a yellow color in their skin or eyes. Although having any symptoms at all is rare, if they do occur, they usually go away within a few weeks.
Around 15-25% of people who are infected will spontaneously fight off the virus on their own and they will not have a chronic hepatitis C infection and no long term damage occurs.
But around 75-85% of people will develop chronic infection. Most of the time, people with chronic hepatitis C have no symptoms at the time of infection and no symptoms for years or even decades of chronic infection. The virus will be with them until they are successfully treated with hepatitis C medications.
Around 10-20% of people with chronic infection will slowly have gradual damage in the liver over years and will eventually develop cirrhosis . This can take 20 years or more from the time of the initial infection.
Cirrhosis is the replacement of liver cells with permanent scar tissue. Cirrhosis can lead to problems such as bleeding from veins in the esophagus, fluid buildup in the belly, and damaged brain function.Approximately 15% of people with cirrhosis will develop liver cancer during their lifetime. Drinking excessively can double the chance of liver cancer in people infected with HCV.
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We Have A Cure For Hepatitis C Why Are Rates So High
We have had the ability to cure many people of hepatitis C — a common viral infection of the liver — since 2011. These new drugs are effective at curing most strains of the virus and have far fewer side effects than earlier generations of treatment. Despite these major scientific advances, however, hepatitis C rates remain high, particularly among those who are also living with HIV, as well as among people in prison and people using drugs, particularly drugs taken by injection.
Our lack of progress toward eliminating hepatitis lies in a poor screening and surveillance system, the continuing opioid epidemic, and the high cost of the cures — which has led many insurers, most notably Medicaid, to limit treatment to those who are already suffering some of the long-term consequences of this infection.
What Can People Do To Help The Medications Work Best
- Take the medications every day
- Stay in touch with pharmacy to be sure that all refills are ready on time
- Take the medications exactly as prescribed
- Do not skip doses
- Get all blood tests done on time
- Go to all visits with providers as recommended
- Tell the provider about all other medications that are being taken – including over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements
- Complete the entire course of medication
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A Revolution In Hep C Treatment
More than 3 million Americans have a long-lasting hepatitis C infection. Most donât know it, because there usually aren’t symptoms.
Sofosbuvir was one of the first direct-acting antivirals to target hep C,the viru a disease spread through direct blood-to-blood contact. DAAs work in different ways to stop hep C from making copies of itself.
These drugs are kinder and gentler than the old standard of care — interferon shots and ribavirin alone. That route could take as long as a year, it only cured about half of the people, and the side effects were brutal.
âImagine taking an injection and a pill that made you feel — every day — worse than you ever felt from the infection that was being treated,â says Alexea Gaffney-Adams, MD, an infectious disease specialist in Smithtown, NY.
Side effects included flu-like symptoms, joint pain, anemia, and depression.
Limes says the old treatment felt like pouring gasoline into his system. âIt was like killing me to keep me alive.â In fact, it made his hep C worse, so his doctors took him off it.
Todayâs therapies are pills only and donât need interferon. They have very few side effects and double the cure rate — to 90% to 100%. They work in as little as 8 or 12 weeks.
âMy who had been on the older regimens — and failed, and now have the luck of being able to experience these new medications — canât believe the difference,â says Gaffney-Adams.
Additional Tests You Might Need
Once youve been diagnosed with Hepatitis C, your doctor will likely order a number of tests to find out about the health of your liver and decide on a treatment plan thats most appropriate for you.
Hepatitis C genotype
The Hepatitis C genotype refers to a specific strain or type of the Hepatitis C virus. There are six major types of Hepatitis C around the world: genotypes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. In the United States, genotypes 1, 2, and 3 are common:
- Genotype 1: Most Americans with Hepatitis C have this type
- Genotype 2: About 10% of Americans with Hepatitis C have this type
- Genotype 3: About 6% of Americans with Hepatitis C have this type
The genotype of Hepatitis C does not change over time, so you only need to get tested once.
Genotype tests are done before a person starts treatment. Hepatitis C treatment works differently for different genotypes, so knowing your genotype helps your doctor choose the best treatment for you.
Testing for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B
Your doctor may test to see if your body is immune to Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. If these tests show no prior exposure or protection, he or she will recommend that you be vaccinated against these two viruses to eliminate the chance of becoming infected.
Liver function tests or liver enzymes
Liver function tests also include ALP and total bilirubin, among other things.
Tests to measure liver scarring or fibrosis
- Liver Biopsy
- Serum markers
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How Is Hepatitis C Diagnosed
Your doctor will determine if you have hepatitis C by using a blood test. The test is called the Hepatitis C Antibody Test. The test checks your blood for antibodies to the hepatitis C virus. If antibodies are detected, it means you have been exposed to hepatitis C. If your viral load is positive, it means you are currently actively infected with hepatitis C. A negative test means that you do not have hepatitis C antibodies and likely do not have hepatitis C.
Encouraging Others To Get Tested For Hepatitis C
While the odds of passing on the hepatitis C virus are low, you should still tell anyone at risk that you have hepatitis C. You should tell sexual partners, spouses, and family members. Your infection may be difficult to discuss, but anyone at potential risk must know. That way, they can get tested and treated if needed. Read more on why you should get tested for hepatitis C.
Paul Berk, MD, professor of medicine and emeritus chief of the division of liver disease, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City chairman of the board, American Liver Foundation.
Alan Franciscus, executive director, Hepatitis C Support Project and editor-in-chief of HCV Advocate, San Francisco.
Thelma King Thiel, chair and CEO, Hepatitis Foundation International.
David Thomas, MD, professor of medicine, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore.
Howard J. Worman, MD, associate professor of medicine and anatomy and cell biology, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, New York City.
The American Gastroenterological Association.
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Who Is Most At Risk Of Contracting Hepatitis C
You have a high risk of contracting hepatitis C if you:
- use or have used injection drugs even if it was just once or many years ago
- have received blood or blood products or an organ transplant before July 1990 in Canada
- have been in jail or
- have been injected or scratched during vaccination, surgery, blood transfusion or a religious/ceremonial ritual in regions where hepatitis C is common.
You have a high moderate risk of contracting hepatitis C if you:
- have tattoos or body piercing
- have multiple sexual partners
- have a sexually transmitted infection , including HIV or lymphogranuloma venereum
- have experienced traumatic sex or rough sex or have used sex toys or fisting that can tear body tissue
- have vaginal sex during menstruation
- have received a kidney treatment
- have received an accidental injury from a needle or syringe
- have another infectious disease
- were born to a hepatitis C infected mother or
- have a sexual partner infected with hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C is NOT passed from person to person by:
- coughing, sneezing
- breastfeeding unless your nipples are cracked and bleeding or
- oral sex, unless blood is present.
What Do Hepatitis C Symptoms Look Like
Hepatitis C infection can go through two stages: acute and chronic. In the early, or acute stage, most people don’t have symptoms. If they do develop symptoms, these can include:
- flu-like symptoms, tiredness, high temperature and aches and pains
- loss of appetite
- tummy pain
- jaundice, meaning your skin and the whites of your eyes turn yellow
While for some people, the infection will clear without treatment, in most cases, acute infection will develop into long-term chronic infection. Chronic infection may not become apparent for a number of years until the liver displays signs of damage. These symptoms can include:
- mental confusion and depression these are specific to hepatitis C
- constantly feeling tired
- nausea, vomiting or tummy pain
- dark urine
- feeling bloated
- joint and muscle pain
Without treatment, chronic hepatitis C can cause scarring of the liver , which can cause the liver to stop working properly. A small number of people with cirrhosis develop liver cancer and these complications can lead to death. Other than a liver transplant, theres no cure for cirrhosis. However, treatments can help relieve some of the symptoms.
How Do You Test For Hepatitis C
A simple blood test carried out by a healthcare professional will show whether you have the virus. You may also be given an extra test to see if your liver is damaged.
If youve got hepatitis C you should be tested for other STIs. It’s important that you tell your recent sexual partner/s so they can also get tested and treated. Many people who have hepatitis C do not notice anything wrong, and by telling them you can help to stop the virus being passed on. It can also stop you from getting the infection again.
What Are The Tests For Hepatitis C
There are two blood tests needed to diagnose hepatitis C:
The antibody test–called HCV antibody, HCV Ab, or anti-HCV–is done first. If this test is positive, it means that you have been infected with hepatitis C at some point in the past. If your antibody test is negative, then you have never been infected with hepatitis C if you were infected within the past month or so, the test may not be accurate you may needed to be retested at a later date.
However, a positive antibody test does not tell you if you still have hepatitis C. For that, you need to have a HCV RNA test, which determines whether the virus itself is in the bloodstream.
If any RNA is present in the blood after 6 months from time of infection, then you have chronic hepatitis C.
If no RNA is detected in the blood after 6 months, you no longer have hepatitis C.
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What Are The Names Of The Medications For Treating Hepatitis C
Since 2014, multiple different antiviral treatments for hepatitis C have been developed. With the many options now available, often there is more than one good choice for a patient. Some of the treatments are recommended as first-line options, some are second-line options, and others are used less commonly in light of all the available choices.
Second line hepatitis C medications:
Are There Ways To Cure Hepatitis C Other Than With Medications
Patients sometimes ask whether there are ways to treat hepatitis C other than taking medicines. Currently, there are no vaccines to prevent hepatitis C. Once a person is infected, the only way to treat it is with prescribed antiviral medications.
Some patients worry that having hepatitis C means they will need a liver transplant. Only a very small fraction of people with hepatitis C require a liver transplant. By far, most people with hepatitis C never need a liver transplant. A transplant is performedonlywhen damage to the liver is extremely advanced and the liver is unable to perform its basic functions. A transplant provides a new working liver, but a transplant does not get rid of the hepatitis C virus in the patient. Patients with a liver transplant still need antiviral medication to cure their virus.
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There Should Be No Shame Or Stigma Attached To Hep C
Individuals newly diagnosed with hepatitis C may not get treatment or seek support because they are afraid of how others will view them.
Some people dont want to the disease or tell anybody because of the stigma, says Armstrong, who is a member of the American Liver Foundations patient advisory committee. I want to encourage people to come forward and seek treatment.
People say, I dont want anyone to know I have hep C. It has a bad connotation. People are going to look at me differently, says Galati. I spend a lot of my time trying to dispel this stigma and embarrassment.
Kowdley says, There are people in all walks of life and a variety of circumstances that have been exposed to hepatitis C. What they should focus on is to empower themselves, advocate for themselves, and link to care from experts like myself who are in a practice that has knowledge and expertise in treating hep C.
Will The Baby Be Infected If The Mother Or Father Has Hepatitis C
The baby’s risk of becoming infected with hepatitis C in the womb varies, depending on whether the parent with hepatitis C is the father or the mother.
If the mother is infected, whether or not the father is infected, there is a 5% chance that the baby will be born with hepatitis C. The risk is the same regardless of whether the birth occurs by vaginal delivery or by cesarean section. The risk is higher if the mother is also living with HIV.
If the father has hepatitis C but the mother does not, the baby cannot become infected because a father cannot pass the virus directly to a baby. If the father first passes the virus to the mother through sex, then the baby possibly could be infected by the mother. However, the chance of the virus being transmitted both from father to mother and then from mother to baby is almost zero.
All children born to HCV-infected women should be tested for HCV infection. Testing is recommended using an antibody-based test at or after 18 months of age. Approximately 25-50 % infants with hepatitis C will clear the infection without any medical help by age 4. For those who become chronically infected, most have no symptoms .
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