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.
How Is Hepatitis C Spread
Hepatitis C spreads through contact with the blood of someone who has HCV. This contact may be through
- Sharing drug needles or other drug materials with someone who has HCV. In the United States, this is the most common way that people get hepatitis C.
- Getting an accidental stick with a needle that was used on someone who has HCV. This can happen in health care settings.
- Being tattooed or pierced with tools or inks that were not sterilized after being used on someone who has HCV
- Having contact with the blood or open sores of someone who has HCV
- Sharing personal care items that may have come in contact with another person’s blood, such as razors or toothbrushes
- Being born to a mother with HCV
- Having unprotected sex with someone who has HCV
Before 1992, hepatitis C was also commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. Since then, there has been routine testing of the U.S. blood supply for HCV. It is now very rare for someone to get HCV this way.
How Does It Occur
Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus. The virus is spread mainly through contact with the blood of someone who is infected. Sometimes it is spread through sexual contact. You can get the infection from:
- receiving infected blood, blood products, or transplanted organs
- long-term kidney dialysis if supplies or equipment is used that has someone else’s infected blood on it
- contact with infected blood if you are a healthcare worker, especially from accidental needlesticks
- your mother if she had hepatitis C when you were born
- intravenous drug abuse
- sharing nasal cocaine equipment with other people
- sharing razors or toothbrushes with an infected person
- getting a permanent tattoo with nonsterile equipment
- having unprotected sex with someone infected with hepatitis C.
Before 1990 one of the most common ways to get hepatitis C was blood transfusion. However, now blood donors are screened for the virus, and their blood is not used if it is infected. It is estimated that the current risk for getting hepatitis C from a transfusion in 1 in 2 million.
The disease can be spread by people who do not have any symptoms and may not know they carry the virus. These people are called asymptomatic carriers.
Hepatitis C cannot spread by hugging or kissing, food or water, sneezing, coughing, casual contact, or sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses. Hepatitis C appears to have little risk for spread through breast-feeding.
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Tests To Diagnose Hepatitis C
How is Hepatitis C diagnosed?
There are two main blood tests typically used to diagnose Hepatitis C. First, youll have a screening test that shows if youve ever had Hepatitis C at some point in your life. If this test is positive, youll have a second test to see if you have Hepatitis C now. These blood tests are described below:
Hepatitis C antibody test
This is the screening test used by doctors to show whether or not you have ever been exposed to Hepatitis C at some time in your life, by detecting antibodies in your blood. Antibodies are substances your body makes to fight off all kinds of infections. If you were ever infected with Hepatitis C, your body would have made antibodies to fight the virus.
If the test result is:
- Negative, it means you have not been exposed to Hepatitis C and further testing is usually not needed.
- Positive, you have had Hepatitis C at some point. However, it does not tell you whether you have it now. Youll need to see your doctor for another test the Hepatitis C RNA test to determine if the virus is still active and present in your blood.
Hepatitis C RNA Qualitative Test
This test will determine whether or not you are currently infected with Hepatitis C. It is often called the PCR test because of the process used . It looks for the genetic material of the Hepatitis C virus in your blood.
If the test result is:
Hepatitis C RNA Quantitative Test
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
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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.
How Can I Take Care Of Myself
- See your healthcare provider regularly.
- Follow your provider’s instructions for taking medicine for your symptoms. You need to avoid taking medicines that can damage the liver more . Ask your provider which medicines you can safely take for your symptoms, such as itching and nausea.
- Follow your provider’s advice for how much rest you need and when you can go back to your normal activities, including work or school. As your symptoms get better, you may slowly start being more active. It is best to avoid too much physical exertion until your provider says it’s OK.
- Eat small, high-protein, high-calorie meals, even when you feel nauseated. Sipping soft drinks or juices, and sucking on hard candy may help you feel less nauseated.
- Don’t drink alcohol unless your healthcare provider says it is safe.
- Contact your healthcare provider if: Your appetite keeps getting worse.
- You are getting more and more tired.
- You have vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain.
- Your skin gets yellowish.
- You have a new rash.
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How Do People Get Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C virus is found in the blood of people with HCV infection. It enters the body through blood-to-blood contact.
Until reliable blood tests for HCV were developed , people usually got hepatitis C from blood products and blood transfusions. Now that blood and blood products are tested for HCV, this is no longer the typical means of infection.
Currently, people usually get hepatitis C by sharing needles for injection drug use. An HCV-infected woman can pass the infection to her baby during birth. It is also possible to get hepatitis C from an infected person through sexual contact, an accidental needlestick with a contaminated needle, or improperly sterilized medical, acupuncture, piercing, or tattooing equipment.
Symptoms Of Hepatitis C
Many people with hepatitis C have no symptoms at all. When symptoms do occur they often involve the following:
- stomach problems
- jaundice a yellowing of the skin and eyes.
Some people will clear the virus without treatment, but this is less likely in the case of people living with HIV.
For most people, hepatitis C continues to reproduce in the body long after infection, turning into a chronic infection. This means that they continue to be infectious, although they may not experience any symptoms at all, or not for many years.
Even with a lack of symptoms, the virus may still be damaging the liver, causing fibrosis a hardening of the liver. This can lead to cirrhosis, which is a permanent scarring of the liver. Cirrhosis increases the risk of liver cancer.
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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
Can Vaccines Prevent The Sexual Transmission Of Hepatitis
- Hepatitis A: Measures used to prevent the spread of STDs, like the use of condoms, do not prevent hepatitis A transmission. Fortunately, an effective vaccine for preventing Hepatitis A transmission is available and is the most important measure to protect people at risk of infection.
- Hepatitis B: A hepatitis B vaccine safely and effectively protects against infection of the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices have recommended the hepatitis B vaccination for:
- Sexually active people who are not in long-term, mutually monogamous relationships .
- People seeking evaluation or treatment for a sexually transmitted disease.
- CDC also recommends hepatitis B testing and hepatitis B vaccination for
- Sexual partners of people with hepatitis B.
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What Are The Chances Of Getting Hep C Sexually
Hepatitis C spreads by contact with an infected persons blood. Although uncommon, hepatitis C can be transmitted through sexual activity, if the person has genital sores and cuts. It can also be transmitted during menstruation. However, just 2% of hepatitis C cases are sexually transmitted.
The risk of getting hepatitis C sexually increases in the following situations:
- Men who have sex with men
When Should You Start Treatment For Hepatitis C
With the new antiviral drugs for hepatitis C, it’s now recommended that everyone with hepatitis C shouldn’t wait to be treated, regardless of liver disease severity.
The aim of this treatment is a cure sometimes described as a sustained virologic response. This means that no hepatitis C virus is detectable in your blood six months after youve finished treatment.
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Should I Be Screened For Hepatitis C
Doctors usually recommend one-time screening of all adults ages 18 to 79 for hepatitis C. Screening is testing for a disease in people who have no symptoms. Doctors use blood tests to screen for hepatitis C. Many people who have hepatitis C dont have symptoms and dont know they have hepatitis C. Screening tests can help doctors diagnose and treat hepatitis C before it causes serious health problems.
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:
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Joint And Muscle Pain
A condition called arthralgia causes joint pain and is common in people with hepatitis C. Itâs different from arthritis, which causes pain and swelling in joints. But infected people can also get hepatitis C-related arthritis.
Fibromyalgia, which causes body aches and muscle pain, is also common in people with hepatitis C.
How Can I Prevent Spreading Hepatitis C To Others
If you have hepatitis C, follow the steps above to avoid spreading the infection. Tell your sex partner you have hepatitis C, and talk with your doctor about safe sex practices. In addition, you can protect others from infection by telling your doctor, dentist, and other health care providers that you have hepatitis C. Dont donate blood or blood products, semen, organs, or tissue.
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General Tips For Prevention
Refrain from engaging in IV drug use and be cautious with all procedures that involve needles.
For example, you shouldnt share needles used for tattooing, piercing, or acupuncture. The equipment should always be carefully sterilized for safety. If youre undergoing any of these procedures in another country, always make sure the equipment is sterilized.
Sterile equipment should also be used in a medical or dental setting.
How Is It Diagnosed
Your healthcare provider will ask about your medical history and symptoms. Especially important is your history of hepatitis risk factors such as IV drug abuse or unsafe sex.
Your provider will look at your skin and eyes for signs of hepatitis. Your provider will check your belly to see if the liver is bigger than it should be or hurts when it is touched.
You will have blood tests. If blood tests show that your liver is not working normally, your provider will do tests to find out if a virus is causing the problems. Tests that look for viruses can identify the hepatitis B virus.
You may need to have a liver biopsy to check for damage to the liver. Your skin will be numbed and then a needle will be put through your skin and into your liver. The needle is used to get a small piece of the liver for tests.
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How Do I Get Tested For Hepatitis C
Testing for hepatitis C involves two steps. The first step is an Anti-HCV test to check if there are any antibodies present in your blood, and can therefore confirm whether you have ever been in contact with the virus. A second test is required to check if the virus is currently present in your blood.
Your sexual and needle-sharing partners should also have a blood test to check for hepatitis C antibodies. Find a local clinic now.
Who Gets Hepatitis C
Who gets hepatitis C?
Anyone can get hepatitis C virus. But unlike a cold or flu virus, HCV isn’t easy to catch. The virus is transmitted only by direct contact with human blood that contains the virus. There are several ways infection can occur. Those at risk of being infected with hepatitis C virus include:
What about tattooing?
Several studies have shown there is no link between licensed commercial tattooing parlors and HCV infection, “but transmission of Hepatitis C is possible when poor infection-control practices are used during tattooing or piercing,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .
The agency advises people thinking about getting tattoos or body piercing to consider the health risks. It’s possible to get infected with HCV, the CDC says, if the tools used have someone else’s blood on them, or if the piercer or tattoo artist fails to use proper hygiene, such as washing hands, sterilizing tools, and using disposable gloves.
Is it possible to contract HCV from a shared razor or toothbrush?
There are no documented cases of transmission, but the CDC warns that people should not share toothbrushes, razors, or other personal care items: They might have small amounts of infected blood on them.
The CDC stresses that the hepatitis C virus is NOT spread by casual contact or by breast feeding, hugging or kissing, sneezing, coughing, or sharing utensils, drinking glasses, food, or water.
Is sex safe?
Preventing the spread
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