Treatment And Medication Options For Hepatitis C
The last few years have seen extraordinary advances in the treatment of hepatitis C.
For decades, the standard treatment was a combination antiviral therapy consisting of a pegylated interferon and ribavirin, sometimes called PEG-riba therapy. This involved weekly injections of the pegylated interferons along with twice-daily oral doses of ribavirin. Sometimes interferon was prescribed without ribavirin.
The treatment by interferon lasted six months to a year, and cured only 40 to 50 percent of hepatitis C patients. The painful injections often made patients feel ill with flu-like symptoms.
But now, hepatitis C can be treated with a number of direct-acting antiviral pills that act faster and much more effectively than the older interferon treatment. These combination oral medicines have 90 to 100 percent cure rates, and they work in weeks instead of months. Some of these drugs may be used in combination with ribavirin.
What Are The Symptoms And Consequences Of Infection
Approximately 20 percent of persons exposed to the virus develop symptoms which may include jaundice , fatigue, dark-colored urine, stomach pain, loss of appetite and nausea. After the initial infection, 15-25 percent will recover and 75-85 percent will become chronically infected . Approximately 70 percent of persons chronically infected may develop liver disease, sometimes decades after initial infection.
Getting Tested For Hepatitis C
Seek medical advice if you have persistent symptoms of hepatitis C or there’s a risk you’re infected, even if you do not have any symptoms.
A blood test can be carried out to see if you have the infection.
GPs, sexual health clinics, genitourinary medicine clinics or drug treatment services all offer testing for hepatitis C.
Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent or limit any damage to your liver, as well as help ensure the infection is not passed on to other people.
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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.
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.
What Is The Treatment For Hepatitis C
Drugs are licensed for treatment of persons with chronic hepatitis C. Combination drug therapy, using pegylated interferon and ribavirin, can get rid of the virus in up to five out of ten of persons with genotype 1, the most common genotype in the U.S. and eight out of ten persons with genotype 2 or 3. It is important to know that not everyone will need treatment. The decision to treat hepatitis C is complex and is best made by a physician experienced in treating the disease.
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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What Should You Do To Protect Your Liver If You Have Hepatitis C
Following a healthy lifestyle reduces the risk of hepatitis C progressing to cirrhosis and liver failure. These healthy habits may help you slow the diseases advancement: Dont drink alcohol. The most important thing you can do if you have hepatitis C is to not drink alcohol. Alcohol can cause further liver damage.Achieve or maintain a Body Mass Index less than 30. As your BMI increases, your risk of fatty liver increases. If you have hepatitis C and fatty liver, you increase your risk for cirrhosis, liver failure and the need for a liver transplant.Quit smoking. Smoking increases your risk of developing cirrhosis and liver failure.Participate in moderate-intensity physical activity. In one study, 60 minutes of daily walking improved liver function in people with liver disease.Lowering the C LevelsUT Southwestern researchers have been involved in clinical trials on hepatitis C since the virus was discovered in 1989. Consequently, our liver specialists remain on the leading edge of effective treatment for the disease.If youre at risk for hepatitis C, get tested as soon as possible. We cant stress enough the importance of early detection. If you test positive, consult a liver specialist for further evaluation and treatment. With improvements in treatment, the public health emphasis on cleaning up the blood supply and universal precautions for handling blood, its possible that within the next 20 years, hepatitis C will become rare and complications from it even rarer.
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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Symptoms And Warning Signs
If you’re worried you might have alcoholic liver disease, see a doctor right away. A variety of factors can affect your symptoms, including:
- Pre-existing conditions
- Disease progression
In the early stages, you may not have any symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they may seem to worsen after a period of heavy drinking.
The three main categories of symptoms are:
- Digestive problems: This includes abdominal swelling, dry mouth, and bleeding from enlarged veins in your esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that connects your throat to your stomach.
- Skin issues: This can include yellowing of the skin, red spider-like veins, and redness on your feet.
- Brain and nervous system problems: This may include memory problems, numbness in extremities, and fainting.
Can I Drink Alcohol Once In A While If I Have Hepatitis C
Alcohol can clearly contribute to worsening liver disease. You must discuss with your health care provider if any amount of alcohol is safe for you.
Alcohol can cause inflammation and scarring in the liver. If you have any underlying liver condition, such as hepatitis C or hepatitis B or damage from long-term alcohol use, your liver will be more sensitive to alcohol. When you have hepatitis C virus, alcohol on top of the hepatitis C can cause the inflammation and scarring to be worse, and overall damage to the liver may happen much faster when you drink alcohol.
Here is some helpful information about alcohol and hepatitis:
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Complications Of Hepatitis C
If the infection is left untreated for many years, some people with hepatitis C will develop scarring of the liver .
Over time, this can cause the liver to stop working properly.
In severe cases, life-threatening problems, such as liver failure, where the liver loses most or all of its functions, or liver cancer, can eventually develop.
Treating hepatitis C as early as possible can help reduce the risk of these problems happening.
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.
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Can I Get Reinfected With Hepatitis C
If you become infected with hepatitis C infection and then clear the virus , yes, it is possible for you to become infected again.
The chance of another infection with hepatitis C is much, much less than the chance of a first-time infection, but it is not impossible. It has happened in people who continue to use injection drugs, and some studies suggest that it happens even more often in people who are also HIV positive.
In other words, having had hepatitis C once does not make you “immune” to getting hepatitis C again.
The best way to avoid reinfection is to reduce risky behaviors that can result in exposure to the hepatitis C virus: Do not use injection drugs, do not share needles for any reason, avoid blood-to-blood exposures with others, and use condoms if you are sexually active with a new partner or with a partner who has used injection drugs.
The research in this area is ongoing, and we will continue to learn more about this very important topic. But for now, preventing re-exposure to the hepatitis C virus is the only sure way of avoiding infection and reinfection with hepatitis C.
What Are The Tests For Hepatitis C
There are two blood tests needed to diagnose hepatitis C:
The antibody test–called HCV antibody, HCV Ab, or anti-HCV–is done first. If this test is positive, it means that you have been infected with hepatitis C at some point in the past. If your antibody test is negative, then you have never been infected with hepatitis C if you were infected within the past month or so, the test may not be accurate you may needed to be retested at a later date.
However, a positive antibody test does not tell you if you still have hepatitis C. For that, you need to have a HCV RNA test, which determines whether the virus itself is in the bloodstream.
If any RNA is present in the blood after 6 months from time of infection, then you have chronic hepatitis C.
If no RNA is detected in the blood after 6 months, you no longer have hepatitis C.
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What Are The Different Types Of Blood Tests How Often Should I Get These Tests Done
There are several different blood tests, or “labs” that your provider may order for you. The tests measure the amounts of various proteins and enzymes that the liver produces. This is a way of finding out how damaged the liver is. Your provider can determine how often each test needs to be done. Please see Understanding Lab Tests for more details about the tests you may have.
Causes And Risk Factors Of Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is transmitted when the blood of an infected person enters the body of someone who isn’t infected.
Before 1992, when widespread screening of the blood supply began, people could contract the virus through blood transfusions and organ transplants.
Today, the most common ways that transmission occurs are:
- Through the sharing of needles and syringes for intravenous drug use
- Through accidental needle injuries in healthcare settings
- During birth, if the mother has hepatitis C
Using personal care items including razors and toothbrushes that have come in contact with blood infected with HCV can put you at risk of hepatitis C.
“Hepatitis C can be easily transmitted with any blood-to-blood contact ,” Dr. Malvestutto says. “There have been cases of transmission through sharing of razors or sharing ‘straws’ to inhale drugs nasally.”
Though less common, it’s also possible to acquire a hepatitis C infection by having unprotected sex with someone who has the virus.
Given that hepatitis C is spread through blood contact, an infected mother cannot give her baby hepatitis C through breastfeeding and you cannot contract the virus through saliva .
Some factors that increase your risk of hepatitis C:
Hepatitis C has some surprising ways of showing up. For example, your birth date alone may put you at a higher risk. Healthcare professionals and members of the military are also at greater risk.
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Eat Regular Nutritious Meals
Sometimes people with hepatitis C have a hard time eating. You may have no appetite, feel nauseated, or have different tastes than you are used to. Even if you don’t feel like eating, it’s very important to eat small meals throughout the day. Some people have nausea in the afternoon. If this happens to you, try to eat a big, nutritious meal in the morning.
If you have cirrhosis, it may not be a good idea to eat salty foods or foods that are high in protein. If you want to know more about which foods to avoid and which foods are good to eat, ask your doctor about meeting with a registered dietitian to discuss a healthy eating plan.
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.
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Favorite Hep C Alternative Medicine Resource
Although hep C can be successfully treated with modern medicine, many people turn to dietary supplements with the goal of curing their illness. The most commonly used is silymarin . Although the NCCIH says that no supplement is effective for hep C, the center provides the latest scientific data on a range of products, including probiotics, zinc, licorice root, and colloidal silver.
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.
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