How Is Hepatitis C Diagnosed
Symptoms alone generally dont offer enough information for a doctor to diagnose hepatitis C. Whats more, you might not have symptoms or notice any signs of the condition.
Thats why its so important to connect with a doctor or other healthcare professional and ask about getting tested if youve been exposed to the hepatitis C virus.
The also recommend hepatitis C testing for people who have abnormal liver tests, along with those who are:
- on hemodialysis
A healthcare professional can order a few different tests to help diagnose hepatitis C. These include:
- Blood tests. They may order a series of blood tests to check for the virus, starting with a hepatitis C antibody test. A PCR test can tell your healthcare professional whether the virus is currently active, and viral load testing can measure the amount of virus in your blood.
- Genotype test. This test can reveal which hepatitis C genotype you have. This information will help your healthcare professional find an effective treatment approach.
- Liver function test. If blood test results suggest chronic hepatitis C or your healthcare professional believes you could have liver damage, theyll order a liver function test. This test checks your blood for signs of heightened enzymes from your liver.
- Liver biopsy.This procedure can also help check for liver damage. A biopsy involves taking a small piece of tissue from your liver and testing it for cell abnormalities.
Complications Of Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C can be a long-term, progressive disease. It can eventually lead to cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver tissue. If this happens, the liver doesnt function as well. Some people with hepatitis C also develop liver cancer.
A liver transplant may be necessary if the virus has significantly damaged your liver. Even with a new liver, youll have to take antiviral medication to avoid infecting the new organ.
What Is Chronic Hepatitis C
Doctors refer to hepatitis C infections as either acute or chronic:
- An acute HCV infection is a short-term illness that clears within 6 months of when a person is exposed to the virus.
- A person who still has HCV after 6 months is said to have a chronic hepatitis C infection. This is a long-term illness, meaning the virus stays in the body and can cause lifelong illness. An estimated 3.2 million people in the U.S. have chronic HCV.
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What Other Tests Diagnose Hepatitis C
Once the diagnosis of hepatitis C is established, other tests may be done to determine whether the patient has developed liver fibrosis or scarring . This can be done with a needle biopsy of the liver, and examining the biopsied liver tissue under the microscope. Liver biopsy is less commonly done today because noninvasive tests are more readily available, more easily accomplished and less costly.
Liver imaging can evaluate fibrosis using ultrasound and MRI scans. Additionally, calculations using a variety of blood tests also can predict the degree of inflammation and fibrosis present. Genotype testing will typically be done to determine what subtype of hepatitis C the patient has, as this will impact what drugs are used for treatment.
With the newest forms of antiviral treatment, the most common types of chronic hepatitis C can be cured in most individuals.
How Is Hepatitis C Infection Prevented
Unfortunately, there is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. To reduce your risk of getting hepatitis C:
- Injection drug use is the most common way people get hepatitis C. Avoid injecting drugs to reduce your risk. If you do inject drugs, use sterile injection equipment. Avoid reusing or sharing.
- Avoid sharing personal care items that might have blood on them
- If you are a health care or public safety worker, follow universal blood/body fluid precautions and safely handle needles and other sharps
- Consider the risks if you are thinking about tattooing, body piercing, or acupuncture are the instruments properly sterilized?
- If youre having sex with more than one partner, use latex condoms correctly and every time to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including hepatitis C.
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How Common Is Hepatitis C
There are approximately 30,000 new cases of acute hepatitis C every year in the United States as estimated by the CDC. In 2015, it was estimated that approximately 3.5 million Americans were infected with hepatitis C.
On a global scale, the prevalence of hepatitis C is greatest in Central and East Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East. In 2016, it was estimated that 177 million people worldwide had antibodies to hepatitis C virus.
- exposure to other people who do or might have hepatitis C.
Transmission Of Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is transmitted through blood, primarily via sharing needles and syringes used for drugs. However, it can also spread via needles used for piercings or tattoos that havenât been properly sanitized. The virus can also be passed through blood transfusion, and a mother with hepatitis C can potentially pass the virus on to their child during birth.
Hepatitis C is not strictly a sexually transmitted infection, but the virus can be transmitted through sexual contact. This primarily can happen if you have sex during menstruation or during anal sex .
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What Are The Symptoms Of Hepatitis C
Most people infected with hepatitis C have no symptoms. Some people with an acute hepatitis C infection may have symptoms within 1 to 3 months after they are exposed to the virus. These symptoms may include
If you have chronic hepatitis C, you most likely will have no symptoms until complications develop, which could be decades after you were infected. For this reason, hepatitis C screening is important, even if you have no symptoms.
What Are Treatment Options For Hepatitis C
While no one wants to get diagnosed with a blood infection, hep C is 98% curable when you take the recommended course of treatment. Unlike the weekly interferon injections of the past, which delivered side effects as harsh as chemotherapy, treatment has come a long way in the past few years.
Thanks to a class of meds called direct-acting antivirals , most people with hep C can be completely cured of the disease in just a matter of weeks . DAAs are taken in daily tablet form and while some patients experience mild side effects, they can usually be managed with OTC meds.
DAAs target and eliminate proteins found in the hep C virus the two most common medications prescribed are Mavyret and Epclusa , both of which include a cocktail of different types of antiviral drugs in one pill.
In rare cases , DAAs dont work to clear the virus. When this happens, doctors will most often prescribe a more aggressive antiviral medication such as Vosevi. Because Vosevi is a potent combination of three antiviral drugs , it has a slightly higher burden of side effects, including:
If youre put on DAAs, your doctor might also prescribe a longer course of treatment to clear the infection and will know for sure if the virus is gone by measuring how much viral genetic material is in your blood.
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Cost Of Hepatitis C Medicines
The newer direct-acting antiviral medicines for hepatitis C can be costly. Most government and private health insurance prescription drug plans provide some coverage for these medicines. Talk with your doctor about your health insurance coverage for hepatitis C medicines.
Drug companies, nonprofit organizations, and some states offer programs that can help pay for hepatitis C medicines. If you need help paying for medicines, talk with your doctor. Learn more about financial help for hepatitis C medicines.
What Are The Risk Factors For Hepatitis C
In the United States, having been born between 1945 and 1965, and the use of illicit injection drugs are the two most common factors associated with hepatitis C. Other risk factors include:
- having received blood transfusions prior to 1990,
- hemodialysis, and
- having greater than 10-lifetime sex partners.
Population studies show that hepatitis C is more common among males, non-Hispanic blacks, those with low income, and those with less than a high school education.
People who have HIV/AIDS have an increased risk for hepatitis C, because both these diseases are transmitted in the same ways, through blood and body fluids. If someone has both infections, that person is said to be co-infected with HIV and HCV.
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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
Causes And Risk Factors
HCV causes hepatitis C. People contract the virus through blood-to-blood contact with contaminated blood. For transmission to occur, blood containing HCV must enter the body of a person without HCV.
A speck of blood, invisible to the naked eye, can carry hundreds of hepatitis C virus particles, and the virus is not easy to kill.
The report the following risk factors for developing hepatitis C:
- using or having used injectable drugs, which is currently the most common route in the U.S.
- receiving transfusions or organ transplants before 1992, which is before blood screening became available
- having exposure to a needle stick, which is most common in people who work in healthcare
- being born to a mother who has hepatitis C
The CDC offer advice on cleaning syringes if it is not possible to use clean and sterile ones. Although bleach can kill the HCV in syringes, it may not have the same effect on other equipment. Boiling, burning and using alcohol, peroxide, or other common cleaning fluids to wash equipment can reduce the amount of HCV but might not stop a person from contracting the infection.
It is extremely dangerous to inject bleach, disinfectant, or other cleaning products, so people should make sure they rinse the syringe thoroughly. A person should only ever use bleach to clean equipment if new, sterile syringes and equipment are not available.
People who are at risk due to these factors can have screening to rule out HCV.
- peginterferon alfa-2a
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Living With Hepatitis C Infection
Many people are living with hepatitis C. If you have hepatitis C, there are several important things that you can do to help yourself and others such as:
- Eat a healthy diet and get plenty of rest.
- To avoid further liver damage:
- Do not drink alcohol.
- Do not take medicine that can cause liver damage .
- Get vaccinated against hepatitis A & B if you are not already immune.
- Do not to pass the infection to anyone else by taking the following precautions, such as:
- Do not share toothbrushes or razors with others.
- Do not to let anyone else come into contact with your blood, urine or feces.
- Use condoms during sexual activity.
- Limit the number of sex partners you have.
- If you use injection drugs, do not share needles or syringes with anyone else.
- It is best to not get tattoos or body piercings.
Although often uncomfortable, you should notify your partner of your hepatitis C prior to having sex. You also must notify all your health care professionals of your infection, so they can take precautions.
What Causes Hepatitis C
The hepatitis C virus causes hepatitis C. The hepatitis C virus spreads through contact with an infected persons blood. Contact can occur by
- sharing drug needles or other drug materials with an infected person
- getting an accidental stick with a needle that was used on an infected person
- being tattooed or pierced with tools or inks that were not kept sterilefree from all viruses and other microorganismsand were used on an infected person before they were used on you
- having contact with the blood or open sores of an infected person
- using an infected persons razor, toothbrush, or nail clippers
- being born to a mother with hepatitis C
- having unprotected sex with an infected person
You cant get hepatitis C from
- being coughed or sneezed on by an infected person
- drinking water or eating food
- hugging an infected person
- shaking hands or holding hands with an infected person
- sharing spoons, forks, and other eating utensils
- sitting next to an infected person
A baby cant get hepatitis C from breast milk.18
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Staying Healthy With Hepatitis
Not everyone needs treatment right away, but its important to be monitored regularly by an experienced doctor and discuss treatment options of the best way to keep you healthy.
- Get vaccinated against Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B
- Avoid alcohol and drugs
- Eat a healthy & balanced diet. Include a lot of vegetables and fruits try to stay away from too much salt, sugar and fat.
- Exercise regularly. Walking is one of the best exercises, and it helps to make you feel less tired.
- Check with a health professional before taking any prescription pills, supplements, or over-the-counter medications.
- Do not share razors, nail clippers, needles or other items that come in contact with blood with other people.
What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of Hcv Infection
Most people with HCV have no symptoms. But even without symptoms, they can develop health problems decades later and can still pass the disease to others.
- darker than usual urine or gray-colored stools
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How Do You Get Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C spreads when blood or body fluids contaminated with the hepatitis C virus get into your bloodstream through contact with an infected person.
You can be exposed to the virus from:
- Sharing injection drugs and needles
- Having sex, especially if you have HIV, another STD, several partners, or have rough sex
- Being stuck by infected needles
- Birth — a mother can pass it to a child
- Sharing personal care items like toothbrushes, razor blades, and nail clippers
- Getting a tattoo or piercing with unclean equipment
You canât catch hepatitis C through:
- Casual contact
- Have been on long-term kidney dialysis
- Have abnormal liver tests or liver disease
- Have HIV
- Were born to a mother with hepatitis C
Since July 1992, all blood and organ donations in the U.S. are tested for the hepatitis C virus. The CDC says it is now rare that someone getting blood products or an organ would get hepatitis C. That said, The CDC recommends that anyone over the age of 18 get tested for Hepatitis C. If you haven’t been screened, you should consider having it done.
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When Should You See A Doctor Or Other Healthcare Professional
Since so many people dont experience any symptoms, healthcare professionals recommend getting screened for hepatitis C at least once in your adult life. They may recommend more frequent screenings if you have a higher risk of contracting the virus.
Hepatitis C doesnt always become severe, but the chronic form can increase your risk for liver damage, liver cancer, and liver failure.
If you have any symptoms that suggest hepatitis C, especially if theres a chance youve been exposed, connect with a doctor or another healthcare professional as soon as possible to discuss your options for testing and treatment.
With a prompt diagnosis, you can get treatment earlier, which may help prevent damage to your liver.
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How Is Hepatitis C Treated
Significant progress has been made in treating and even curing hepatitis C. Older hepatitis C treatments usually required weekly injections, had serious side effects, and often were not effective.
New and better oral medicines now can cure HCV for many people within 3 months. The new medicines were very expensive at first, but their prices have come down, a trend that health experts hope will continue as the incidence of HCV rises and increased screening brings more cases to light.
These medicines successfully cure about 90% of HCV patients. A new oral medicine under development looks promising for the 10% who don’t respond to the standard treatment. This new antiviral combination pill is currently under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration .
What Are The Complications Of Undiagnosed Hepatitis C
- Hepatitis C is known to be associated with two skin conditions, lichen planus and porphyria cutanea tarda.
- Diabetes, heart disease, and arterial blockage are more common among patients with chronic hepatitis C infection than in the general population. It may be that liver damage and chronic inflammation caused by hepatitis C may affect the levels of blood fats and blood sugar.
- Low platelet counts may occur as a result of the destruction of platelets by antibodies.
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