You Need To Find The Right Doctor
When you have hep C, it’s important to find the right doctor. Although it’s possible to get cured, it’s likely you’ll be getting care from the same person for many years.
Many kinds of doctors treat people with liver diseases. Look for one who has a lot of experience taking care of people with hep C. Information about the disease changes quickly. So you want to make sure the person treating you keeps up with latest advances.
Doctors trained to treat organs of the digestive tract , liver doctors , and infectious disease specialists all stay up to date on how to treat and cure hepatitis C.
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.
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.
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Adults Living With Hepatitis B
If you test positive for the hepatitis B virus for longer than 6 months, this indicates that you have a chronic hepatitis B infection.
All patients with chronic hepatitis B infections, including children and adults, should be monitored regularly since they are at increased risk for developing cirrhosis, liver failure, or liver cancer.
You should make an appointment with a hepatologist or gastroenterologist familiar with hepatitis B. This specialist will order blood tests and possibly a liver ultrasound to evaluate your hepatitis B status and the health of your liver. Your doctor will probably want to see you at least once or twice a year to monitor your hepatitis B and determine if you would benefit from treatment.
Not everyone who tests positive for hepatitis B will require medication. Depending on your test results, you and your doctor might decide to wait and monitor your condition. If your test results indicate that you would be a good candidate for treatment, then your doctor will discuss the current treatment options with you. Whether you start treatment or not, your doctor will want to see you every six months, or at minimum once every year.
Before you start any treatment, make sure you research each treatment option, and ask your doctor to thoroughly explain each option, so that you are well informed. It also might be a good idea to get a second opinion from another doctor before starting any treatment, because more information is always better!
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But Even If You’ve Been Cured It Can Have Lifelong Health Implications
“Hepatitis C is a lot more than just a liver disease,” Reau says. “It has been associated with many medical conditions, such as an increased risk of developing diabetes, kidney disease and cancer.”
While curing hepatitis C significantly reduces the risk of serious complications, like liver failure, liver cancer and the need for transplantation, it doesn’t completely eliminate the health risks associated with the disease.
“Hep C is linked to scarring of the liver or cirrhosis and the more scar tissue that develops, the greater the likelihood of complications,” Reau says. “If there is a lot of scarring, you will need lifelong monitoring.”
Reau also recommends leading a healthy lifestyle to help prevent re-infection and further liver damage: Limit alcohol consumption, control your weight, avoid high-risk activities and manage diabetes if you have it.
Hepatitis C Symptoms & Treatment
Hepatitis C is found in infected blood. It is also rarely found in semen and vaginal fluids.
Hepatitis C is mainly passed on through using contaminated needles and syringes or sharing other items with infected blood on them. It can also be passed on through unprotected sex, especially when blood is present.
You can prevent hepatitis C by never sharing needles and syringes, practising safer sex, and avoiding unlicensed tattoo parlours and acupuncturists.
Hepatitis C will often not have any noticeable symptoms, but a simple blood test carried out by a healthcare professional will show whether you have hepatitis C.
In the early stages, some peoples bodies can clear a hepatitis C infection on their own, others may develop chronic hepatitis C and will need to take antiviral treatment to cure the infection.
Without treatment, chronic hepatitis C can lead to permanent liver damage.
Hepatitis C is part of a group of hepatitis viruses that attack the liver.
Its mainly passed on through contaminated needles, either from injecting drugs or from needle stick injuries in healthcare settings. It can also be transmitted sexually, especially during anal sex or other types of sex that may involve blood.
Some groups are more at risk of getting hepatitis C than others, including people who use drugs, people in prisons, men who have sex with men, health workers and people living with HIV.
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You Will Miss Out On A Cure
Over the past decade much has changed regarding C treatment and prognosis. Many people are afraid of side effects associated with hepatitis C medications, but todays anti-virals cause far fewer problems than older drugs. Whats more, your doctor can provide easy-to-follow tips on how to manage any that come up during the course of your treatment. Importantly, hepatitis C treatment is not forever and a cure is possible. What are you waiting for?
Diagnosis Of Hepatitis C
If you are at risk of hepatitis C infection, or think you may have been exposed to hepatitis C in the past, see your doctor for an assessment of your liver health. This will include blood tests and possibly a non-invasive test for liver damage .
There are 2 blood tests used to diagnose hepatitis C. Usually these can be done at the same time but sometimes they will be done separately.
The first test known as a hepatitis C antibody test can tell you whether you have ever been exposed to hepatitis C.
It may take 2 to 3 months from the time of infection until a blood test can detect antibodies to hepatitis C, so there is a window period during which you cannot tell if you are or have been infected. In this time, take precautions to prevent the potential spread of the virus.
The second test is called hepatitis C PCR, which will be done if the antibody test is positive. This determines if the virus is still present in your blood or liver or if you have already cleared the infection.
If you have cleared the virus or had successful treatment to cure it, the PCR test will be negative.
A liver ultrasound or Fibroscan can also be performed to assess if you have any liver damage.
If your doctor is inexperienced in diagnosing hepatitis C you can call the LiverLine on for information, and to find a GP who can help you.
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What To Do After A Needlestick Injury
If you pierce or puncture your skin with a used needle, follow this first aid advice immediately:
- encourage the wound to bleed, ideally by holding it under running water
- wash the wound using running water and plenty of soap
- do not scrub the wound while you’re washing it
- do not suck the wound
- dry the wound and cover it with a waterproof plaster or dressing.
You should also seek urgent medical advice to assess your need for PEP or other treatment to reduce the risk of getting an infection.
Symptoms Of Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C often doesn’t have any noticeable symptoms until the liver has been significantly damaged. This means many people have the infection without realising it.
When symptoms do occur, they can be mistaken for another condition. Symptoms can include:
- flu-like symptoms, such as muscle aches and a high temperature
- feeling tired all the time
- loss of appetite
Read more about the complications of hepatitis C.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Hepatitis C Virus Infection
Most people who have HCV infection will feel well and have no symptoms. They may not know that they have been exposed to the virus. Some people may have a brief illness with symptoms appearing around 6 weeks after they have been infected with the virus. You need a blood test to see if you have the infection.
Symptoms of acute HCV infection may include:
- Nausea and vomiting
About 75% of people with HCV infection will develop a chronic infection. People with chronic HCV infection may feel tired or have a low mood or stomach pain. They may pass the virus on to other people.
Without treatment, some people with chronic HCV infection will develop scarring of the liver over decades. Cirrhosis can lead to liver failure or liver cancer in a small number of people.
For more information on assessing your risk, see HealthLinkBC File #40a Hepatitis C Virus Infection.
How Common Is Hepatitis C
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 2.4 million people in the U.S. are living with hepatitis C.
In 2016, just under 3,000 cases of acute hepatitis C were reported, but experts believe hepatitis C infections are significantly underreported.1 The number of acute cases is estimated to be nearly 14 times higher than reported. That would put the number of HCV cases in 2016 closer to 41,000.1
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Chronic Hep C Infection
- Antiviral Medications: If you have chronic hepatitis C, your doctor may recommend antiviral medications to clear the virus from your body. Researchers have made significant progress recently in creating direct-acting antiviral drugs. These medications have fewer side effects and shorter treatment times, typically 8-12 weeks. Which medication your doctor chooses will depend on your specific profilewhich virus genotype you have, whether you have existing liver damage, and your medical history and prior hepatitis treatments.
- Liver transplantation: If you have serious complications from chronic hepatitis C infection, your doctor may recommend liver transplantation. A liver transplant doesnt cure hepatitis C, and the infection may return and require treatment with antiviral medications to clear the virus and prevent damage to the new liver, but a liver transplant can be a lifesaving procedure for those who need it.
- Vaccines: There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, but your doctor may recommend vaccines for hepatitis A and B viruses, which can also cause liver damage and worsen hepatitis C.
What Is Alcoholic Hepatitis
Alcoholic hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver caused by excessive consumption of alcohol. It is one of the three main categories of alcoholic liver disease. It is preceded by fatty liver, a less serious and reversible condition that often does not produce any symptoms. If left untreated, alcoholic hepatitis can progress to alcoholic cirrhosis, a life-threatening condition characterized by scarring and decreased function of the liver.
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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 Can I Do To Stay As Healthy As Possible
To promote good health while living with HCV infection, learn about the disease and consider the following:
- Get more information about hepatitis C from your health care provider, local health unit, or support groups. See Hepatitis Education Canada at , Canadian Liver Foundation at www.liver.ca/ and Help4Hep at www.help4hep.org/
- Avoid alcohol as it can cause damage to the liver and increases the liver damage caused by HCV. If you do use alcohol, try to reduce the amount that you use. To learn more about support options, visit CATIE www.catie.ca/en/practical-guides/hepc-in-depth/treatment/hepatitis-c-treatment-and-drug-use
- Avoid illegal drug use and smoking. To find a needle exchange site, take home naloxone kits and training, or an overdose prevention site, see the toward the heart site and HealthLinkBC File #102a Understanding Harm Reduction: Substance Use
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You Will Develop Severe Symptoms If Left Untreated
While hepatitis C infection can start off silently, untreated hepatitis C comes out roaring. Some people will develop symptoms down the road including tiredness, and , , and occasionally and skin, , and light-colored stools. These nuisance-like symptoms can seriously damage your quality of life. And hepatitis C doesnt stop there. Left untreated, it will progress and cause more serious and potentially fatal liver disease.
Can You Die From Hepatitis C
Complications from untreated hepatitis C, including cirrhosis and liver cancer, can be fatal, though HCV itself is rarely fatal.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , people who develop cirrhosis from HCV have a
more than half of people with an HCV infection will develop chronic hepatitis C. Chronic hepatitis C is long term and can lead to permanent cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Chronic hepatitis C usually has no symptoms. People with chronic hepatitis C may not even know they have it. But once symptoms appear, it means that damage to the liver has already begun.
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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.
Should I Be Tested For Hep C
As a result of so many people undiagnosed and untreated for hepatitis C, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all adults be tested at least once, with more frequent testing for those who fall into high-risk categories including: anyone with an abnormal liver test or an unexplained liver disease, people who received a blood transfusion before 1992, past or present injection drug users, people who have received kidney dialysis, anyone who has had multiple sex partners, people who have had a tattoo or body piercing, veterans , people with a history of heavy alcohol use, medical workers who handle blood, anyone who has received a clotting agent before 1987, and people who have tested positive for HIV.
Testing is simple and done through a blood test that looks for hepatitis C antibodies. If someone tests positive for hepatitis C antibodies, typically, a follow-up test is done to look for the hepatitis C virus in the blood stream, called a viral load test .
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