What Hepatitis C Does To Your Liver
Hepatitis C causes inflammation in the liver that leads, very slowly, to damage which eventually forms scars. This is called fibrosis and in most people with hepatitis C it takes many years to develop without symptoms so people often dont know it is happening. Over time, usually up to 30 years, this can lead to cirrhosis of the liver. With cirrhosis, the liver becomes scarred, hard and bumps form. The shape of the liver changes and this changes the way blood flows through the liver, which can lead to bleeding into the gut. Cirrhosis can also lead to liver cancer. When cirrhosis develops, your liver starts to run out of normal cells and can stop working also known as liver failure.
If there is a small to medium amount of damage the liver can repair itself. However, if there is a large amount of damage from severe cirrhosis or cancer, the liver cannot repair itself. When there is a large amount of irreversible liver damage, a liver transplant may be an option this would be discussed with your doctor or nurse.
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 Happens In Your Body With Hep C
Once the virus enters your bloodstream, it heads for your liver. Hepatitis C is a viral infection, and its a virus that lives primarily in the liver, says Dr. Goff. The reason it causes trouble is our immune system tries to get rid of it, but the virus mutates quite quickly, so it keeps alluding being caught. The liver gets caught in the crossfire.
Over time, the chronic infection can lead to serious liver scarring and damage, increasing the risk of life-threatening liver failure and cancer, Dr. Fox says.
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Why Getting Tested Is Important
A blood test is one of the only ways to confirm a diagnosis of hepatitis C. Additionally, hepatitis C often has no visible symptoms for many years.
Because of this, its important to be tested if you believe youve been exposed to the virus. Getting a timely diagnosis can help ensure you receive treatment before permanent liver damage occurs.
Treatments For Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C can be treated with medicines that stop the virus multiplying inside the body. These usually need to be taken for several weeks.
Until recently, most people would have taken 2 main medicines called pegylated interferon and ribavirin .
Tablet-only treatments are now available.
These new hepatitis C medicines have been found to make treatment more effective, are easier to tolerate, and have shorter treatment courses.
They include sofosbuvir and daclatasvir.
Using the latest medications, more than 90% of people with hepatitis C may be cured.
But it’s important to be aware that you will not be immune to the infection and should take steps to reduce your risk of becoming infected again.
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Should You Get Tested
The CDC recommends that anyone over the age of 18 get tested for Hepatitis C. But you should especially consider being tested if you:
- Were born between 1945 and 1965
- Have used injected drugs
- Were born to a mother who had hepatitis C
- Were treated for a blood clotting problem before 1987
- Got a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992
- Have been a long-term hemodialysis patient
- Work in health care or public safety and were exposed to blood through a needle stick or other sharp object injury
If you get tested and find out you have hepatitis C, tell your sex partner and anyone else who may have been exposed to your blood, including through drug use.
Who Is At Risk For Hepatitis C
You are more likely to get hepatitis C if you:
- Have injected drugs
If you have chronic hepatitis C, you probably will not have symptoms until it causes complications. This can happen decades after you were infected. For this reason, hepatitis C screening is important, even if you have no symptoms.
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How Does Hepatitis C Spread
Hepatitis C is spread only through exposure to an infected person’s blood.
High-risk activities include:
- Sharing drug use equipment. Anything involved with injecting street drugs, from syringes, to needles, to tourniquets, can have small amounts of blood on it that can transmit hepatitis C. Pipes and straws to smoke or snort drugs can have blood on them from cracked lips or nosebleeds. Get into a treatment program if you can. At the very least, don’t share needles or equipment with anyone else.
- Sharing tattoo or piercing tools. Nonsterile items and ink can spread contaminated blood.
- Blood transfusions in countries that donât screen blood for hepatitis C.
- Nonsterile medical equipment. Tools that arenât cleaned properly between use can spread the virus.
- Blood or cutting rituals. Sharing the tools or exchanging blood can transmit hepatitis C.
Medium-risk activities include:
Ritualistic Practices That Involve Blood
Traditional practices using razor blades, knives or needles can be a risk for spreading the hep C virus. Blood brother rituals involve direct blood-to-blood contact and therefore carry a very high risk of infection if one person has the hep C virus. Sharing instruments for branding or self-harming also carry a high risk of blood to-blood contact .
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How Do You Get Hepatitis C
The hepatitis C virus is usually spread through blood-to-blood contact.
Some ways the infection can be spread include:
- sharing unsterilised needles particularly needles used to inject recreational drugs
- sharing razors or toothbrushes
- from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby
- through unprotected sex although this is very rare
In the UK, most hepatitis C infections happen in people who inject drugs or have injected them in the past.
It’s estimated around half of those who inject drugs have been infected with the virus.
Can Hepatitis C Be Prevented
There is no vaccine to protect against hepatitis C.
You should avoid sharing needles, syringes or other equipment when injecting medication or drugs.
Avoiding blood-to-blood contact, including during sex, will help prevent infection.
If you have hepatitis C, you cannot donate blood or sperm.
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What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of Hcv Infection
Hepatitis C can be a “silent but deadly” 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.
- nausea, vomiting, and lack of appetite
- belly pain
- joint pain
Direct Exposure To Blood
Exposure to large amounts of contaminated blood increases the risk for hepatitis C transmission. If you get a cut and need help tending it, whoever helps you should first put on disposable gloves to prevent exposure in case he or she has a cut. You can also help prevent hepatitis C transmission by covering any cuts or sores with bandages until theyre healed and disposing of used bandages properly.
Uninfected people should take steps to avoid getting someone elses blood in their eyes, nose, and mouth. If an uninfected persons skin is exposed to contaminated blood, wash the area with soap and water immediately. If blood gets in the eyes, rinse them with running water right away and call a doctor to find out about further steps that should be taken.
When cleaning blood from surfaces, Dr. Lee recommends using a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water. Dried blood should also be handled with care because the virus can live for several days outside the body.
The CDC recommends that if youve ever tested positive for hepatitis C, you should abstain from donating blood, organs, or semen.
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How It’s Passed On
The hepatitis C virus is found in blood and is passed on when infected blood gets into another persons bloodstream. Its seen as unlikely that it can be passed on in semen.
Most people get the virus from sharing drug injecting equipment such as needles, syringes, water cups, tourniquets, spoons, filters and swabs. Sharing things like straws and banknotes that are used for snorting drugs might pass the virus on, as can sharing pipes.
In the UK piercing and tattooing should be safe but unsterilised equipment abroad can spread the virus.
An infected person risks infecting others if they share anything that might have blood on it like a toothbrush or razor. A pregnant woman with the virus can give it to her baby during pregnancy or childbirth.
Blood transfusions in the UK are safe as blood is screened.
You can also potentially get it from medical or dental treatment abroad in countries where hepatitis C is common and infection control is inadequate.
How Can You Prevent The Spread Of Hepatitis C
Now that you know how you get hepatitis C, you can take steps to protect yourself from the virus. For instance:
- Avoid sharing needles or other paraphernalia related to intravenous drugs.
- Wear gloves if youre a health care worker or otherwise exposed to needles or potentially infected blood.
- Use barrier methodsaka condomsoutside of sexually monogamous relationships.
- Dont share toothbrushes or other dental equipment, nail clippers, or shaving tools.
- If youre getting a tattoo or piercing, make sure the artist or piercer uses sterile ink and needles.
If you have the hepatitis C virus, you can prevent passing it along to others by following those same steps, in addition to:
- Covering any open sores or wounds.
- Telling all your health and dental care providers you have the virus.
- Avoiding donating blood.
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Sharing Personal Care Items
The chances of spreading hepatitis C within your household are low but possible. To be safe, don’t share personal care items that could be contaminated with blood, Lee says. These include razors, toothbrushes, cuticle scissors, and nail clippers.
In addition, be mindful when you go to nail salons or barbershops, where the same tools are used on all customers. A study published in the November-December 2014 issue of the Journal of Public Health Management & Practice found that while regulations to safeguard the public exist in most states, it’s unknown how many businesses comply with them. Ask about tool-sterilization procedures before you frequent these establishments. You can also bring your own nail care supplies.
When To Talk To Your Doctor
You may not realize that you’ve come in contact with hepatitis B or C because oftentimes there aren’t any symptoms. You should get tested if you’ve been in any situation that presents a risk of infection, like sharing needles. The CDC also recommends that all pregnant women get tested for hepatitis C.
Some people can be allergic to the hepatitis B vaccine, so you should also see your doctor if you experience any bad reactions after getting one of the doses.
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How Do Doctors Treat Hepatitis C
Doctors treat hepatitis C with antiviral medicines that attack the virus and can cure the disease in most cases.
Several newer medicines, called direct-acting antiviral medicines, have been approved to treat hepatitis C since 2013. Studies show that these medicines can cure chronic hepatitis C in most people with this disease. These medicines can also cure acute hepatitis C. In some cases, doctors recommend waiting to see if an acute infection becomes chronic before starting treatment.
Your doctor may prescribe one or more of these newer, direct-acting antiviral medicines to treat hepatitis C:
You may need to take medicines for 8 to 24 weeks to cure hepatitis C. Your doctor will prescribe medicines and recommend a length of treatment based on
- which hepatitis C genotype you have
- how much liver damage you have
- whether you have been treated for hepatitis C in the past
Your doctor may order blood tests during and after your treatment. Blood tests can show whether the treatment is working. Hepatitis C medicines cure the infection in most people who complete treatment.
Hepatitis C medicines may cause side effects. Talk with your doctor about the side effects of treatment. Check with your doctor before taking any other prescription or over-the-counter medicines.
Contaminated Needles And Infected Blood
You can get hepatitis C from sharing contaminated needles, syringes and other injecting equipment during recreational drug use. Banknotes and straws used for snorting may also pass the virus on.
Being exposed to unsterilised tattoo and body piercing equipment can also pass hepatitis C on. Occasionally, you can get it from sharing a towel, razor blades or a toothbrush if there is infected blood on them.
Hepatitis C infection is also passed on in healthcare settings, from needle stick injuries or from medical and dental equipment that has not been properly sterilised. In countries where blood products are not routinely screened, you can also get hepatitis C by receiving a transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products.
You can prevent hepatitis C by:
- never sharing needles and syringes or other items that may be contaminated with infected blood
- only having tattoos, body piercings or acupuncture in a professional setting, where new, sterile needles are used
- following the standard infection control precautions, if youre working in a healthcare setting.
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Sharing Of Household Items
Very low risk
It is very rare for hep C to be transmitted through the use of household items, but it is best not to share razor blades, tweezers and toothbrushes. Brushing your teeth can cause bleeding gums, so sharing your toothbrush can cause blood-to-blood contact. Razor blades and tweezers can also possibly lead to blood-to-blood contact between people .
Getting Tested Is The Only Way To Know If You Have Hepatitis C
A blood test called a hepatitis C antibody test can tell if you have been infected with the hepatitis C viruseither recently or in the past. If you have a positive antibody test, another blood test is needed to tell if you are still infected or if you were infected in the past and cleared the virus on your own.
- Are 18 years of age and older
- Are pregnant
- Currently inject drugs
- Have ever injected drugs, even if it was just once or many years ago
- Have HIV
- Have abnormal liver tests or liver disease
- Are on hemodialysis
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How To Prevent Hepatitis C
There is currently no vaccine for hepatitis C. Avoiding contact with infected blood is the only way to prevent the condition.
The most common way for people to contract hepatitis C is by injecting street drugs. Because of this, the best way to prevent hepatitis C is to avoid injecting.
Treatments can help many people quit. People in the U.S. can call the National Helpline for help with finding treatments.
If a person finds it difficult to stop, they can reduce the risk of contracting hepatitis C by never sharing drug equipment, ensuring a clean, hygienic environment, and always using new equipment, including syringes, ties, alcohol swabs, cottons, and cookers.
People who may come into contact with infected blood, such as healthcare workers and caretakers, should always wash the hands thoroughly with soap and water after any contact, or suspected contact, with blood. They should also wear gloves when touching another persons blood or open wounds.
People can also reduce their risk by making sure that any tattoo artist or body piercer they visit uses fresh, sterile needles and unopened ink.
The risk of contracting hepatitis C through sexual contact is low. Using barrier protection, such as condoms, reduces the risk of most sexually transmitted infections.
People who have hepatitis C can reduce the risk of transmitting it to others by:
There are many misconceptions about how hepatitis C spreads. People cannot transmit or contract the virus through:
How Do You Get Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is really contagious. Its transmitted through contact with semen , vaginal fluids, and blood. You can get it from:
having vaginal, anal, or oral sex
sharing toothbrushes and razors
sharing needles for shooting drugs, piercings, tattoos, etc.
getting stuck with a needle that has the Hep B virus on it.
Hepatitis B can also be passed to babies during birth if their mother has it.
Hepatitis B isnt spread through saliva , so you CANT get hepatitis B from sharing food or drinks or using the same fork or spoon. Hepatitis B is also not spread through kissing, hugging, holding hands, coughing, sneezing, or breastfeeding.
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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.