How Can I Make A Difference For People With Hepatitis C
Anyone can help raise awareness about this widespread disease. Citizens can write letters to their state representatives or local newspapers and get involved in volunteer efforts with liver disease or Veteran-affiliated organizations . Speaking at support groups and sharing your experience is also a good way to help others with HCV.
Our Areas Of Innovation For Hepatitis
Liver biopsies provide a great deal of information about the extent of damage in a childs liver, but the procedure is invasive and can be both painful and risky. Researchers at Boston Childrens use an ultrasound-based imaging technology called FibroScan that may be able to help doctors assess liver scarring without a liver biopsy.
The commitment and compassion with which we care for all children and families is matched only by the pioneering spirit of discovery and innovation that drives us to think differently, to find answers, and to build a better tomorrow for children everywhere.
How Hepatitis C Is Transmitted
Sharing needles and other equipment for drug use is the most common way of spreading the hepatitis C virus. But there are other ways and risk factors.
Hepatitis C is a type of hepatitis, or inflammation of the liver, caused by the hepatitis C virus . When a person contracts hepatitis C, it can take 2 to 12 weeks from exposure until the onset of any symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .
Between 20 and 30 percent of people infected with HCV develop symptoms of acute hepatitis C. But in many cases of acute hepatitis C, people with HCV have no symptoms. About three-quarters of people with HCV will develop complications, including a chronic HCV infection that can last a lifetime.
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Different Types Of Hepatitis
The different types of viral hepatitis, which also includes hepatitis A and B, are transmitted in different ways. For instance, the hepatitis A virus is transmitted through contaminated food and drink, while the hepatitis B virus is spread through contact with various bodily fluids, including blood, semen, and vaginal secretions.
Hepatitis C is less transmissible than A and B because you mainly get it through blood contact, though it can be spread through sexual contact. But unlike A and B, there is no vaccine for C, though research is under way. According to the CDC, hepatitis C is responsible for more deaths in the United States than any other infectious disease.
While some acute infections of hepatitis C spontaneously clear on their own, prior infection does not protect against a future infection with the same or a different strain of the virus. There are six primary strains, or genotypes, of the hepatitis C virus, and each responds to different medications.
Avoid Alcohol And Drugs
One of the most important jobs of your liver is to break down drugs and alcohol. If you have hepatitis C, one of the best things you can do is to avoid substances that may harm your liver, such as alcohol and illegal drugs. If you have cirrhosis, you also may need to avoid certain medicines.
If you use illegal drugs or drink alcohol, it is important to stop. Being honest with your doctor about your drug and alcohol use will help you deal with any substance use disorders. If you don’t feel that you can talk openly with your doctor, you may want to find a doctor you feel more comfortable with. If you want to stop using drugs or alcohol and need help to do so, ask your doctor or someone else you trust about drug and alcohol treatment options.
Because many medicines can stress your liver, talk to your doctor before you take any prescription or over-the-counter medicines. This includes herbal remedies as well.
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Who Should Get Tested
You should consider getting tested for hepatitis C if you’re worried you could have been infected or you fall into one of the groups at an increased risk of being infected.
- Hepatitis C often has no symptoms, so you may still be infected if you feel healthy.
- The following groups of people are at an increased risk of hepatitis C:
- ex-drug users and current drug users, particularly users of injected drugs
- people who received blood transfusions before September 1991
- recipients of organ or tissue transplants before 1992
- people who have lived or had medical treatment in an area where hepatitis C is common high risk areas include North Africa, the Middle East and Central and East Asia
- babies and children whose mothers have hepatitis C
- anyone accidentally exposed to the virus, such as health workers
- people who have received a tattoo or piercing where equipment may not have been properly sterilised
- sexual partners of people with hepatitis C
If you continue to engage in high-risk activities, such as injecting drugs frequently, regular testing may be recommended. Your doctor will be able to advise you about this.
What Does High/low Viral Load Mean
Viral load is the amount of virus present in the bloodstream. It is expressed as the amount of viral genetic material per milliliter of blood. The amount of virus does not predict how severe the liver disease is or will become. The level of the viral load does not tell us anything about the risk of liver damage or how sick someone is. In hepatitis C, it matters if virus is present or absent. Some treatment regimens can be shortened if the patient has a low viral load to start with, but most often, treatment regimens are the same for people with high hepatitis C viral loads or low viral loads.
The RNA test is essential for making the diagnosis of hepatitis C infection–having a positive RNA test is the definition of having infection. After the diagnosis is made, the RNA level does not need to be checked over and over unless it is checked during the time that the patient is undergoing treatment. During treatment, regular RNA tests are done to follow the dropping virus level until it reaches an undetectable state. But before treatment and after treatment, repeated RNA testing is not necessary.
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Undercooked And Raw Shellfish
Shellfish are animals that filter the water from their surroundings. Because of this, they can become contaminated with hepatitis A virus if they are grown in polluted waters. To be safe, cook shellfish thoroughly before eating it. Undercooked shellfish like oysters, mussels, and clams may harbor and transmit hepatitis A. You may prefer the taste of raw oysters, but cooked shellfish really is safer. Protect your health and skip the raw oyster bar.
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.
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Diagnosis Of Hepatitis C
If you are at risk of hepatitis C infection, or think you may have been exposed to hepatitis C in the past, see your doctor for an assessment of your liver health. This will include blood tests and possibly a non-invasive test for liver damage .
There are 2 blood tests used to diagnose hepatitis C. Usually these can be done at the same time but sometimes they will be done separately.
The first test known as a hepatitis C antibody test can tell you whether you have ever been exposed to hepatitis C.
It may take 2 to 3 months from the time of infection until a blood test can detect antibodies to hepatitis C, so there is a window period during which you cannot tell if you are or have been infected. In this time, take precautions to prevent the potential spread of the virus.
The second test is called hepatitis C PCR, which will be done if the antibody test is positive. This determines if the virus is still present in your blood or liver or if you have already cleared the infection.
If you have cleared the virus or had successful treatment to cure it, the PCR test will be negative.
A liver ultrasound or Fibroscan can also be performed to assess if you have any liver damage.
If your doctor is inexperienced in diagnosing hepatitis C you can call the LiverLine on for information, and to find a GP who can help you.
What Do You Do If You Become Ill
Talk to your health care provider about getting tested if you think you:
- are at risk
- may have hepatitis C
If you have hepatitis C, tell those who may have been exposed to your blood or bodily fluids. They should get tested and be treated if necessary. Bodily fluids, like semen and vaginal fluid, are a concern because they could be carrying small amounts of infected blood.
Some adults with hepatitis C will recover from the disease on their own within 6 months. Until your health care provider confirms your recovery status, you are still contagious and can spread the disease.
After recovery, you are no longer contagious because you will not have the disease anymore. But you can get hepatitis C again.
Unfortunately, most adults with hepatitis C:
- cannot recover on their own
- develop a more serious form of the disease if they are sick for longer than 6 months
Causes Of Hepatitis C
You can become infected with hepatitis C if you come into contact with the blood of an infected person.
Other bodily fluids can also contain the virus, but blood contains the highest level of it. Just a small trace of blood can cause an infection. At room temperature, it’s thought the virus may be able survive outside the body in patches of dried blood on surfaces for up to several weeks.
The main ways you can become infected with the hepatitis C virus are described below.
How Common Is Hepatitis C
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention think that 2.4 million Americans are infected with HCV. It is the most common infection carried by blood in the United States. Veterans have higher rates of hepatitis C than the rest of the country so it is especially important to discuss hepatitis C testing with your provider if you are a Veteran. But, Veterans are not the only ones with high rates of hepatitis C. Baby boomers have higher rates of hepatitis C than people in other age groups in the country as well. Often, people infected with hepatitis C are not aware of their infection because they have no symptoms and they do not feel ill so getting tested if you are at higher risk is important step.
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How Common Is Hepatitis C In The United States
In the United States, hepatitis C is the most common chronic viral infection found in blood and spread through contact with blood.14
Researchers estimate that about 2.7 million to 3.9 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C.13 Many people who have hepatitis C dont have symptoms and dont know they have this infection.
New screening efforts and more effective hepatitis C treatments are helping doctors identify and cure more people with the disease. With more screening and treatment, hepatitis C may become less common in the future. Researchers estimate that hepatitis C could be a rare disease in the United States by 2036.17
Tests For The Hepatitis C Virus
If your doctor thinks that you may have hepatitis C, he or she may order:
- A hepatitis C virus test. This is a blood test that looks for antibodies against the hepatitis C virus. It shows whether you have been exposed to the virus.
- A blood test that looks for the genetic material of the hepatitis C virus. This test shows whether you are infected with the virus now.
- A blood test to find out the kind of hepatitis C virus you have. Knowing your genotype will help you and your doctor decide if and how you should be treated.
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Who Is More Likely To Get Hepatitis C
People more likely to get hepatitis C are those who
- have injected drugs
- had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992
- have hemophilia and received clotting factor before 1987
- have been on kidney dialysis
- have been in contact with blood or infected needles at work
- have had tattoos or body piercings
- have worked or lived in a prison
- were born to a mother with hepatitis C
- are infected with HIV
- have had more than one sex partner in the last 6 months or have a history of sexually transmitted disease
- are men who have or had sex with men
In the United States, injecting drugs is the most common way that people get hepatitis C.13
Contagious And Incubation Periods
The incubation periodthe time it takes for symptoms to appear after the hepatitis C virus has entered your bodyis from 2 weeks to 6 months. But not all people have symptoms when they are first infected.
You can spread the virus to someone else at any time after you are infected, even if you don’t have symptoms.
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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.
Needle Use Or Accidental Stick
You can get hepatitis C from:
- Sharing needles and other equipment used to inject drugs.
- Having your ears or another body part pierced, getting a tattoo, or having acupuncture with needles that have not been sterilized properly. The risk of getting hepatitis C in these ways is very low.
- Working in a health care environment where you are exposed to fresh blood or where you may be pricked with a used needle. Following standard precautions for health care workers makes this risk very low.
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What Is The Treatment For Hepatitis C
The treatment for hepatitis C has advanced in recent years which has greatly improved the outlook for people with hepatitis C. The main aim of treatment is to clear HCV from the body and so prevent severe liver damage leading to cirrhosis.
If you have acute hepatitis C, you may not need treatment, but will be monitored carefully to see if your body clears the virus on its own, and to keep an eye out for liver damage. Treatment with medicines is advised for most people with chronic hepatitis C. The type of treatment will depend on various factors, including the type of HCV, the severity of the infection and your own health. The treatments recommended are changing all the time as the treatment of hepatitis C is a developing area of medicine. New treatments continue to be developed. The specialist who knows your case can give more accurate information about the outlook for your particular situation. They can also advise on the side-effects you can expect with each individual treatment. Treatment length varies, depending on your situation, and can last from two months to nearly a year.
However, newer treatment combinations have been found to be more effective in many cases. Sometimes these are used along with ribavirin. There are quite a few different medicines used and recommendations change frequently in this rapidly developing field.
What Is The Difference Between Relapse And Nonresponse
The goal of treating chronic hepatitis C is to completely clear the virus. This means that your “viral load” is zero or so low that the virus can’t be detected with standard blood tests.
Without treatment, the hepatitis C virus in liver cells constantly makes copies of itself, and the virus ends up not just in liver cells but also in the bloodstream. Treatment is intended to completely stop reproduction of the virus so that it doesn’t continue to enter the bloodstream or cause any more injury to liver cells.
Successful treatment results in a “sustained virological response.” This means the virus becomes completely undetectable before the treatment is finished, and it remains undetectable for 6 months after treatment is stopped.
A “relapse” means the viral load drops to an undetectable level before treatment is completed, but becomes detectable again within 6 months after treatment is stopped. Even if the virus returns at a level that is lower than it was before treatment, a relapse is still considered to have occurred. A relapse can be determined if the viral load starts to rise during treatment, or at any time after the virus becomes undetectable.
A “nonresponse” means the viral load never drops significantly and the virus remains detectable throughout the course of treatment.
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