How Common Is Hepatitis C
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention think that 2.4 million Americans are infected with HCV. It is the most common infection carried by blood in the United States. Veterans have higher rates of hepatitis C than the rest of the country so it is especially important to discuss hepatitis C testing with your provider if you are a Veteran. But, Veterans are not the only ones with high rates of hepatitis C. Baby boomers have higher rates of hepatitis C than people in other age groups in the country as well. Often, people infected with hepatitis C are not aware of their infection because they have no symptoms and they do not feel ill so getting tested if you are at higher risk is important step.
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
If You Have Cirrhosis Won’t You Look Yellow
Cirrhosis is advanced scarring in the liver. Many people who develop cirrhosis show no signs at all–they look exactly the same as they did before. For some people with cirrhosis, the scarring in the liver causes a buildup of bile and increases the level of bilirubin in the bloodstream. High bilirubin levels can make the skin appear yellow. So, although the skin of some people with cirrhosis may turn yellow, it does not happen to most people.
It is also important to know that a yellowish skin tone may be caused by cirrhosis, but it also could be caused by a different illness such as pancreatic cancer or colon cancer that has spread to the liver.
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What Are The Side Effects Of Drug Treatment
Common side effects for some treatments for hepatitis C may include the following:
Side effects are usually worst during the first few weeks of treatment. They become less severe over time. If you are having trouble dealing with the side effects of your medicine, talk to your doctor. He or she can suggest ways to relieve some of the side effects. For example, if your medicine makes you feel nauseated, it may help to take it right before you go to sleep.
Is It Contagious Or Hereditary
It is absolutely not contagious. It is generally not considered an inherited disease but a tendency to autoimmune diseases may run in some families. That is, children of patients with autoimmune hepatitis may be at slightly increased risk of developing autoimmune diseases of the thyroid or liver or arthritis. The risk, however, is only slightly greater than the normal population and thus genetic counselling is not necessary.
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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.
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.
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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.
Causes And Risk Factors
HCV causes hepatitis C. People contract the virus through blood-to-blood contact with contaminated blood. For transmission to occur, blood containing HCV must enter the body of a person without HCV.
A speck of blood, invisible to the naked eye, can carry hundreds of hepatitis C virus particles, and the virus is not easy to kill.
The report the following risk factors for developing hepatitis C:
- using or having used injectable drugs, which is currently the most common route in the U.S.
- receiving transfusions or organ transplants before 1992, which is before blood screening became available
- having exposure to a needle stick, which is most common in people who work in healthcare
- being born to a mother who has hepatitis C
The CDC offer advice on cleaning syringes if it is not possible to use clean and sterile ones. Although bleach can kill the HCV in syringes, it may not have the same effect on other equipment. Boiling, burning and using alcohol, peroxide, or other common cleaning fluids to wash equipment can reduce the amount of HCV but might not stop a person from contracting the infection.
It is extremely dangerous to inject bleach, disinfectant, or other cleaning products, so people should make sure they rinse the syringe thoroughly. A person should only ever use bleach to clean equipment if new, sterile syringes and equipment are not available.
People who are at risk due to these factors can have screening to rule out HCV.
- peginterferon alfa-2a
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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.
What Does High/low Viral Load Mean
Viral load is the amount of virus present in the bloodstream. It is expressed as the amount of viral genetic material per milliliter of blood. The amount of virus does not predict how severe the liver disease is or will become. The level of the viral load does not tell us anything about the risk of liver damage or how sick someone is. In hepatitis C, it matters if virus is present or absent. Some treatment regimens can be shortened if the patient has a low viral load to start with, but most often, treatment regimens are the same for people with high hepatitis C viral loads or low viral loads.
The RNA test is essential for making the diagnosis of hepatitis C infection–having a positive RNA test is the definition of having infection. After the diagnosis is made, the RNA level does not need to be checked over and over unless it is checked during the time that the patient is undergoing treatment. During treatment, regular RNA tests are done to follow the dropping virus level until it reaches an undetectable state. But before treatment and after treatment, repeated RNA testing is not necessary.
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Can Hepatitis C Be Prevented Or Avoided
The only way to prevent hepatitis C is to avoid coming in contact with an infected persons blood. Always have protected sex . Dont do intravenous drugs. Dont share personal care items with a person who has hepatitis C. If youre a health care worker, follow your workplaces standard safety practices.
Treatment Of Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is treated with antiviral medications that aim to clear the virus from your body.
New all-tablet treatments have greatly improved the outcomes for people with hepatitis C. These treatments can cure more than 95% of individuals with chronic hepatitis C. There are several new tablets that are used in combination to treat all hepatitis C strains . They are effective for people with no liver damage and those who have more advanced liver damage or cirrhosis.
These new tablet medications are available and subsidised on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and can be prescribed by specialists, general practitioners and specialised nurse practitioners.
There are no restrictions on accessing treatment it is available for all adults with a Medicare card. People under 18 are able to access treatment and it is recommended they are referred to a pediatrician experienced in the treatment of hepatitis C.
For more information on the new medications for the treatment of hepatitis C, see our video: Hepatitis C Cure what it means for Victorians.
If your doctor does not know about the new treatments, you can call the LiverLine on for information, and to find a GP who can help you.
Talk with your doctor about treatment options and the potential for interactions with other medications, herbal preparations and other drugs. If you take prescribed medication this will be managed so you can access treatment.
In general, if you have hepatitis C you will feel better if you:
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The Final Stage Of Fibrosis Is Cirrhosis
Cirrhosis is where your liver is severely scarred and permanently damaged. While the word cirrhosis is most commonly heard when people discuss alcohol-induced liver disease, cirrhosis is caused by many forms of liver disease.
While fibrosis is reversible there is a point where the damage becomes too great and the liver cannot repair itself. There is no treatment that can cure cirrhosis. If possible, treating the underlying cause of cirrhosis may keep your cirrhosis from getting worse and help prevent liver failure. Successful treatment may slowly improve some of your liver scarring. It is important to avoid things that could damage your liver further like alcohol, certain medications and fatty food. Treatment for someone with cirrhosis often means managing the symptoms of cirrhosis and preventing further damage to avoid liver failure. Doctors treat liver failure with a liver transplant. Someone with cirrhosis is at a very high risk of developing liver cancer. It is very important to receive routine liver cancer surveillance if you have cirrhosis most people who develop liver cancer have evidence of cirrhosis. Doctors also treat liver cancer with a transplant. It is important to note, people often live with cirrhosis for a long time before the option of liver transplant is discussed.
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.
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How Are Hepatitis B And C Treated
Hepatitis B: Not all patients with chronic hepatitis B infection require treatment. At Yale Medicine, specialists decide on an individual basis whether a patient is an appropriate candidate for treatment. Generally, patients require treatment when their hepatitis B virus level is high, and when laboratory tests demonstrate significant inflammation or injury to the liver.
There are currently seven approved drugs for hepatitis B, two of which are considered to be first-line treatments. These drugs are oral pills taken once daily, and while they’re very effective at suppressing the virus to very low or undetectable levels over the long term, they are not considered curative.
Therefore, the goal of treatment is to control the virus long-term and decrease the risk of hepatitis B related complications such as cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Hepatitis C: For the greater part of the last 20 years, treatment of hepatitis C required the use of a chemotherapy-like injection drug called interferon, which has been associated with serious side effects and a low cure rate. Fortunately, advances in hepatitis C treatments within the last three years now allow for the use of oral medications that are significant improvements in terms of safety and effectiveness.
How Is Hepatitis C Transmitted
Because HCV is primarily spread through contact with infected blood, people who inject drugs are at increased risk for HCV infection. HCV can also be transmitted from an infected mother to child at the time of birth, from unregulated tattoos or body piercings, and from sharing personal items that may be contaminated with infected blood, even in amounts too small to see. Much less often, HCV transmission occurs through sexual contact with an HCV-infected partner, especially among people with multiple sex partners and men who have sex with men. Currently in the United States, health care related transmission of HCV is rare, but people can become infected from accidental needle sticks and from breaches in infection control practices in health care facilities.
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Do I Have To Have Drug Treatment
The choice is up to you and your doctor. The decision to use drug therapy can be hard to make because of the potential side effects. Your doctor will closely monitor your symptoms and the amount of the virus in your body. He or she will also consider your overall health. This includes looking at blood test results. All are important factors to consider before you and your doctor start drug treatment for your hepatitis C.
Monitoring Of Complications In Liver Disease
Several studies suggest that complications of liver disease in compensated cirrhosis can be monitored by non-invasive techniques. As such, values of liver stiffness in cirrhotic patients increase with the progression of liver disease. In a retrospective study of 711 patients, values of liver stiffness significantly correlated with the severity of chronic liver disease in terms of Child-Pugh score, clinical parameters , biochemical parameters and other indications . Fibroscan® cut-off values of 27.5, 49.1, 53.7 and 62.7 kPa had > 90% NPV for large esophageal varices, history of ascites, HCC and esophageal bleeding, respectively. On the same line, Vizzutti et al reported a correlation between liver stiffness and portal hypertension, as assessed by the hepatic venous pressure gradient . A cut-off of 17.6 kPa of Fibroscan® had 90% sensitivity to rule-in esophageal varices.
The value of 7 non-invasive biomarkers of liver fibrosis in prediction of esophageal varices was investigated in one study with 510 patients with cirrhosis. The presence of esophageal varices could be excluded with 96% NPV by Lok index with the cut-off of 1.5. Importantly, a combination of Forns index and Lok index could rule-out clinically significant esophageal varices, defined as varices requiring primary prophylaxis of bleeding , with 91% NPV. Likewise, a good performance of Lok index for diagnosis of varices was also reported by Castéra et al, with a 0.87 AUC.
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