Symptoms Of Hepatitis C
It is very important to know that not everyone with hepatitis C has symptoms. The only way to know if you have hepatitis is by talking to your doctor and getting a blood test.
Many people living with hepatitis C feel well and only have symptoms once the disease has progressed and there is serious liver damage.
If you do not have symptoms this does not mean that the virus isnt causing damage.
When first infected, some people may find:
- their urine becomes dark
- their eyes and skin turn yellow
- they experience a minor flu-like illness.
These symptoms may disappear within a few weeks, but this does not necessarily mean that the infection has been cleared.
Over time, symptoms that may develop include:
- tiredness and fatigue
- flu-like symptoms
- pain in the abdomen where the liver is located
- not feeling hungry and indigestion.
Around 30% of people who have been infected may clear the virus from their blood naturally, with no treatment, within 6 months. These people no longer have the hepatitis C virus and are not infectious, but will always have hepatitis C antibodies in their blood. The presence of hepatitis C antibodies shows that someone has been exposed to the virus, but does not offer any immunity against hepatitis C. People can become reinfected after clearing the virus naturally, or after treatment.
Tips For Preventing Transmission Through Sex
If youre sexually active with a person who has hepatitis C, there are ways that you can prevent contracting the virus. Likewise, if you have the virus, you can avoid infecting others.
A few steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of sexual transmission include:
- using a condom during every sexual contact, including oral sex
- learning to use all barrier devices correctly to prevent ripping or tearing during intercourse
- resisting engaging in sexual contact when either partner has an open cut or wound in their genitals
- being tested for STIs and asking sexual partners to be tested too
- practicing sexual monogamy
- using extra precautions if youre HIV-positive, as your chance of contracting HCV is much higher if you have HIV
If you have hepatitis C, you should be honest with all sexual partners about your status. This ensures that youre both taking the proper precautions to prevent transmission.
Why Prevention Is Key
Hepatitis A spread can be significantly reduced by using correct hand washing techniques and prevented by using the hepatitis A vaccine.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis A.
- Dienstag, JL. Acute Viral Hepatitis. In: AS Fauci, E Braunwald, DL Kasper, SL Hauser, DL Longo, JL Jameson, J Loscaizo , Harrisons Principles of Internal Medicine, 17e. New York, McGraw-Hill, 2008.
- Pickering, LK , The Red Book: Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases, 26th e. American Academy of Pediatrics, 2003. 311-313.
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How Can The Spread Of Hepatitis C Be Prevented
People who have had hepatitis C should remain aware that their blood is potentially infectious.
- Do not shoot drugs if you shoot drugs, stop and get into a treatment program if you can’t stop, never share needles, syringes, water or “works”, and get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B.
- Do not share personal care items that might have blood on them .
- If you are a health care or public safety worker, always follow routine barrier precautions and safely handle needles and other sharps get vaccinated against hepatitis B.
- Consider the risks if you are thinking about getting a tattoo or body piercing. You might get infected if the tools have someone else’s blood on them or if the artist or piercer does not follow good health practices.
- HCV can be spread by sex, but this is rare. If you are having sex with more than one steady sex partner, use latex condoms correctly and every time to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. You should also get vaccinated against hepatitis B.
- If you are infected with HCV, do not donate blood, organs or tissue.
Giving Blood And Organ Donation
If you have hepatitis C, you cannot give blood.
In a recent research study in America kidneys from people with hepatitis C who had died were transplanted into patients who did not have the virus.
All of the recipients subsequently contracted hepatitis C but were treated for it and all were cured. The benefit of receiving a kidney outweighed the risk of not clearing hepatitis C.
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Spread Of Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood contact when blood from a person with hepatitis C enters another persons bloodstream.
The most common way people become infected with hepatitis C in Australia is by sharing injecting equipment such as needles, syringes, spoons and tourniquets. It is possible to be infected with hepatitis C after only one risk event.
Hepatitis C may also be spread through:
- tattooing and body piercing with equipment that has not been properly cleaned, disinfected or sterilised such as backyard tattoos’. Registered parlours with appropriate infection control procedures are not a risk
- needlestick injuries in a healthcare setting
- receiving blood transfusions in Australia prior to 1990 before hepatitis C virus testing of blood donations was introduced
- medical procedures, blood transfusions or blood products and mass immunisation programs provided in a country other than Australia
- pregnancy or childbirth there is a 5% chance of a mother with chronic hepatitis C infection passing on the virus to her baby during pregnancy or childbirth.
Breastfeeding is safe, however if nipples are cracked or bleeding cease breastfeeding until they have healed.
Less likely possible routes of transmission of hepatitis C include:
Hepatitis C cannot be transmitted by:
- sharing food, cups or cutlery
- shaking hands or day-to-day physical contact.
Stages Of Hepatitis C
The hepatitis C virus affects people in different ways and has several stages:
- Incubation period. This is the time between first exposure to the start of the disease. It can last anywhere from 14 to 80 days, but the average is 45
- Acute hepatitis C. This is a short-term illness that lasts for the first 6 months after the virus enters your body. After that, some people who have it will get rid of, or clear, the virus on their own.
- Chronic hepatitis C. For most people who get hepatitis C — up to 85% — the illness moves into a long-lasting stage . This is called a chronic hepatitis C infection and can lead to serious health problems like liver cancer or cirrhosis.
- Cirrhosis. This disease leads to inflammation that, over time, replaces your healthy liver cells with scar tissue. It usually takes about 20 to 30 years for this to happen, though it can be faster if you drink alcohol or have HIV.
- Liver cancer. Cirrhosis makes liver cancer more likely. Your doctor will make sure you get regular tests because there are usually no symptoms in the early stages.
Learn more about the stages and progression of hepatitis C.
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What Are Genotypes And What Do They Mean
Viruses have genes, too. The genotype of virus you have can be one of six different groups, or genotypes. Most patients with hepatitis C in the United States have genotype 1a or 1b, but in other parts of the world, other genotypes are more common.
There isn’t a “better” or “worse” genotype to have. In the past , genotype 1 was the most difficult to successfully cure but this is no longer the case. All the new direct-acting antiviral medicines work extremely well in treating all genotypes. Sometimes genotype 3 is a little harder to cure, but in general, all genotypes now have extremely high likelihoods of being cured with hepatitis C treatment.
Poor Infection Control For Tattooing And Piercing
The notes that HCV may be transmitted by receiving tattoos or piercings from unregulated settings with poor infection control standards.
Commercially licensed tattooing and piercing businesses are generally thought to be safe.
More informal settings may not have adequate safeguards to help avoid the spread of infections. Receiving a tattoo or piercing in settings such as in a prison or in a home with friends carries a of HCV transmission
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Common Examples Of How Hepatitis A Is Spread
The hepatitis A virus usually spreads from person to person contact or from contaminated food or water. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, here are common examples:
- When an infected person touches objects or food after using the toilet without proper handwashing
- When changing the diaper of someone infected but not washing hands afterward
- During some sexual practices, such as oral-anal contact
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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What Are The Side Effects Of Treatment
The direct acting antiviral regimens used to treat hepatitis C today are extremely well tolerated. You may experience mild side effects like headache or fatigue. For details on the side effects, review the handout specific to medication you take.
In rare instances, providers may recommend the addition of the medication ribavirin for more difficult cases of hepatitis C. Ribavirin may cause additional side effects such as fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, anemia, or rash. Patients who receive ribavirin may need more frequent monitoring for side effects as well as adjustment of the dose if side effects are experienced. For detailed information on ribavirin, patients should review the ribavirin handout.
Hepatitis C And Injecting Drugs
If you inject drugs, avoid sharing needles, syringes or other equipment such as tourniquets, spoons, swabs or water.
Where possible, always use sterile needles and syringes. These are available free of charge from needle and syringe programs and some pharmacists. To find out where you can obtain free needles, syringes and other injecting equipment, contact DirectLine
Try to wash your hands before and after injecting. If you cant do this, use hand sanitiser or alcohol swabs from a needle and syringe program service.
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Can The Results Of Liver Panel Tests Point To The Presence Of Hepatitis C
A “liver panel” usually includes tests called AST, ALT, bilirubin, alkaline phosphatase, and some others. Abnormal results could show up in many different conditions, not just hepatitis C. And even if the results of a liver panel are normal, you might still have hepatitis C. So, the liver panel alone cannot tell your provider the answer.
Hepatitis C can be diagnosed only by blood tests that are specific to hepatitis C:
In short, if the results of one or more tests on a liver panel are abnormal, generally speaking, the tests should be repeated and confirmed. If the results remain abnormal, your provider should be prompted to look for the cause.
More important than using the liver panel, if you have risks of having been infected with hepatitis C then you should have the specific hepatitis C antibody test to determine if you have hepatitis C infection.
What Are The Symptoms Of Hepatitis C
You may have hepatitis C and not have any signs or symptoms.
For those who do have symptoms, you may experience:
- nausea and vomiting
Hepatitis C can lead to liver damage, as it causes swelling . This swelling causes scarring of the liver, which affects how the organ functions.
Liver scarring can worsen . This increases your chances of getting liver cancer.
How quickly your liver undergoes damage will depend on if you:
- use alcohol
- get hepatitis C after the age of 40
- have a human immunodeficiency virus co-infection
About 60% to 70% of people with hepatitis C do not develop symptoms until their liver has already been damaged.
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Other Steps You Can Take
Screening of all donated blood has reduced the chance of getting hepatitis B and C from a blood transfusion. People newly diagnosed with hepatitis B infection should be reported to state health care workers to track the population’s exposure to the virus.
The hepatitis B vaccine, or a hepatitis immune globulin shot, may help prevent infection if it is received it within 24 hours of contact with the virus.
Ways You Wont Spread Hepatitis C
There are some ways in which you wont spread HCV, though. Go ahead and let your significant other have a bite of your sandwich or dessert. According to the CDC, hepatitis C isnt spread by sharing silverware or drinking glasses, or through water or foods. Showing affection by holding hands, hugging, or kissing is also safe, Lee says. And although germs from sneezing or coughing might cause you to get a cold, they wont give you hepatitis C.
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Can You Be A Blood Or Organ Donor
People with hepatitis C cant currently donate blood. The American Red Cross eligibility guidelines prohibit people who have ever tested positive for hepatitis C from donating blood, even if the infection never caused symptoms.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services , information on organ donation, those with underlying medical conditions shouldnt rule themselves out as organ donors. This reflects new guidelines for organ donation announced by the HHS.
People with HCV are now able to be organ donors. This is because advances in testing and medical technology can help the transplant team determine which organs or tissues can be safely used for transplantation.
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.
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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 .
What Is A Biopsy
A biopsy is a medical procedure. A tiny piece of liver is removed and examined to find out the extent of damage. It involves a large needle and local anesthetic, as well as some risk of bleeding. A pathologist looks at the piece of liver under microscopes to determine how much damage has occurred in the liver. This is a very useful test and used to be done very commonly. However, the procedure is done much less frequently than in the past. For most patients with hepatitis B and C, liver biopsy is not required. Today, other tests can be used to try to estimate the fibrosis in the liver.
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Hepatitis C And Blood Spills
When cleaning and removing blood spills, use standard infection control precautions at all times:
- Cover any cuts or wounds with a waterproof dressing.
- Wear single-use gloves and use paper towel to mop up blood spills.
- Clean the area with warm water and detergent, then rinse and dry.
- Place used gloves and paper towels into a plastic bag, then seal and dispose of them in a rubbish bin.
- Wash your hands in warm, soapy water then dry them thoroughly.
- Put bloodstained tissues, sanitary towels or dressings in a plastic bag before throwing them away.
If You Have Hepatitis C Can You Have Sex Without Infecting Your Partner
Hepatitis C is a virus that is transmitted by blood. The most common ways people become infected with hepatitis C are through needle sharing, such as during injection drug use, or from blood transfusions received before 1992.
Becoming infected from sex is not common, but it does happen. If you have hepatitis C, the chance of infecting a sex partner is higher if you are with a new partner or if you have had many different partners over time. If you have hepatitis C, the chance of infecting a sex partner is lower if you are with a longtime stable partner and if you are in a monogamous relationship.
If your sex partner is new to you, or if you have many different partners, it is safer if you use condoms during sex to reduce the chance of transmitting hepatitis C.
It is always best to talk directly with your health care provider to assess whether you should start using condoms. If you are in a sexual relationship and either you or your partner has hepatitis C, the other partner should be tested for hepatitis C and other sexually transmitted viruses once a year, or as advised by your provider.
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