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 Do You Prevent Hepatitis C
Researchers have yet to develop a vaccine that prevents hepatitis C .
Just as you might not know you have hepatitis C, other people with the condition may not know they have it, either. But you can take a few key precautions to avoid contracting it:
- Avoid sharing needles.
- When getting piercings or tattoos, check to make sure the piercer or tattoo artist uses only sterile, unopened needles and ink.
- Avoid sharing nail clippers, razors, and toothbrushes.
- Use sterile gloves when caring for someone elses wound.
Since hepatitis C is transmitted through blood, you wont get it by sharing food and drinks with someone who has the condition or by hugging, touching, or holding hands.
Hepatitis C is not commonly transmitted through sexual contact. But using a condom or another barrier method when having sex can always help lower your chances of contracting a sexually transmitted infection.
Keep in mind that you can contract hepatitis C again, even if youve had it already.
Early Signs And Symptoms Of Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is one of those diseases that are quite hard to detect. It affects the liver and the immune system. The symptoms occur sporadically over a prolonged period. Also, most of the symptoms tend to overlap with other diseases such as flu, jaundice or diarrhea. This makes the diagnosis of Hepatitis C difficult for doctors.Also, patients confuse the symptoms with those of common sicknesses and tend to neglect the early signs of infection. Only later, after a lot of time has passed, they are in for a rude shock when their liver starts malfunctioning. Hence, this disease is also known as a silent killer. Sometimes, the symptoms might go away and sometimes they persist. So, a person may suffer from acute Hepatitis C infection or from persistent or chronic Hepatitis C infection.
Acute Hepatitis C: The initial six months of the infection is referred to as acute Hepatitis C. The common symptoms include body aches, fatigue, pain in the upper abdomen, nausea accompanied with vomiting, occasional fever and poor appetite. The symptoms occur within the first three months of infection. They usually last for about two to twelve weeks. Severe symptoms include jaundice, dark urine, and light stool. The person might suffer from diarrhea as well.
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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.
What Drugs Treat And Cure Hepatitis C
The treatment of chronic hepatitis C has gone through several generations of medications. Not long ago, treatment was limited to interferon alpha-2b or pegylated interferon alpha-2b , and ribavirin . Interferon and pegylated interferon need to be injected under the skin , while ribavirin is taken by mouth. This combination therapy is infrequently used today, being recommended for only the least common genotypes of hepatitis C virus .
Since 2010, direct-acting antiviral drugs have been in use. The second generation of antivirals for HCV was the protease inhibitors telaprevir and boceprevir , both taken by mouth. These were used in combination with the earlier drugs to increase effectiveness . These drugs are also no longer in common use, and have been replaced by better options.
As more has been learned about how hepatitis C virus multiplies within the liver cells, new drugs continue to be developed to interfere with this multiplication at different stages. As such, we no longer think in terms of generations of drugs, but rather categories of action. Research and development of these direct-acting antivirals continue, with new agents coming to market every few months. Each category is improved and expanded by the addition of new drugs, which are safer and more effective.
Currently available and commonly used direct-acting antiviral drugs include:
- Muscle aches
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Symptoms Of Your Diagnosis
One of main symptoms of hepatitis C is jaundice, a yellow color to the skin or whites of the eyes. The jaundice is caused by the excess bilirubin in the blood. The excess bilirubin can also lead to other symptoms such as pale or clay-colored stools, dark urine and generalized itching. Flu-like symptoms of fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, and low-grade fever may occur several days before the jaundice appears.
If chronic hepatitis C develops, the symptoms can vary. Some individuals may remain well. Others will have severe and persistent liver inflammation. This may eventually lead to scarring of the liver, called cirrhosis, and liver failure. The scarring does not allow the liver to do its job of removing toxic substances from the blood.
Symptoms Of A Chronic Infection
If the hepatitis C infection progresses to a chronic infection , it can take years before symptoms develop. Symptoms of advanced liver disease caused by long-term chronic infection can include: jaundice fluid build-up and blood in stool or vomit. Sleep disturbances, depression, weight loss, dry or itchy skin, and brain fog also occur in people with chronic hepatitis C but the cause of these symptoms remains uncertain.
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What Is The Best Way To Avoid Getting Hepatitis C
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C available yet, though there are active clinical trials to develop one. Unfortunately, these trials are still in the early stages and there is no information on when a hepatitis C vaccine will be available for public use.
The best way to avoid getting hepatitis C at this time is to avoid exposure to infected blood. Additionally, you should take the following precautions::
Do not share needles or any sharps that could be contaminated with blood.
Wear gloves if youre cleaning blood or anything with blood on it.
Use condoms when engaging in sexual activity.
Its also important to know that there are many strains of the hepatitis C virus. This means that people can get infected with hepatitis C more than once. So, even those who have been cured of hepatitis C in the past should continue to take precautions to avoid getting hepatitis C again.
Articles On Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is a sneaky virus. You may not have any symptoms at all. Most people donât. This is one if the reasons, along with treatability now, that all adults are recommended to get tested. Your doctor could check your liver and see only a little damage. You’re usually not diagnosed until they spot a problem with your liver enzymes after a routine blood test.
Read Also: Hepatitis C And Liver Damage
Can Hepatitis C Be Transmitted Between People
Yes. Hepatitis C can be transmitted to others. The highest risk activities for spreading Hepatitis C include:
- Sharing anything involved with injecting street drugs, from syringes and needles, to tourniquets and pipes
- Sharing non-sterile tattoo or piercing tools and ink
- Getting a blood transfusion in countries that donât screen blood for the virus
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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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.
Additional Tests You Might Need
Once youve been diagnosed with Hepatitis C, your doctor will likely order a number of tests to find out about the health of your liver and decide on a treatment plan thats most appropriate for you.
Hepatitis C genotype
The Hepatitis C genotype refers to a specific strain or type of the Hepatitis C virus. There are six major types of Hepatitis C around the world: genotypes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. In the United States, genotypes 1, 2, and 3 are common:
- Genotype 1: Most Americans with Hepatitis C have this type
- Genotype 2: About 10% of Americans with Hepatitis C have this type
- Genotype 3: About 6% of Americans with Hepatitis C have this type
The genotype of Hepatitis C does not change over time, so you only need to get tested once.
Genotype tests are done before a person starts treatment. Hepatitis C treatment works differently for different genotypes, so knowing your genotype helps your doctor choose the best treatment for you.
Testing for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B
Your doctor may test to see if your body is immune to Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. If these tests show no prior exposure or protection, he or she will recommend that you be vaccinated against these two viruses to eliminate the chance of becoming infected.
Liver function tests or liver enzymes
Liver function tests also include ALP and total bilirubin, among other things.
Tests to measure liver scarring or fibrosis
- Liver Biopsy
- Serum markers
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Symptoms Of Hepatitis B Virus
Symptoms for acute hepatitis B virus typically appear about 1 to 4 months after exposure and may resemble the flu. Most people with acute hepatitis B develop no symptoms. Symptoms may include:
Symptoms from liver involvement can include:
- dark urine
- clay-colored stools
- yellow-colored skin or eye sclera
Chronic hepatitis B is a lifelong infection and occurs in about 5% of patients who contract the virus. Infants and children are more likely to develop a chronic hepatitis B infection, but symptoms may not appear as frequently.
Up to 25% of people who develop chronic infection will develop serious liver conditions, such as cirrhosis , liver failure, or liver cancer.
Those with chronic hepatitis B do not typically have symptoms or feel ill, and can remain symptom free for 30 years or more. If symptoms appear, they are similar to the symptoms of acute infection listed above, but can be at a more advanced stage of liver impairment.
Acquiring hepatitis B during international travel is a possibility in certain regions, so review the CDC guidelines and talk to your doctor for recommendations before travel. If you know you have been exposed to hepatitis B, contact your doctor immediately within 24 hours as you may be able to receive a preventive treatment
What Are Treatment Options For Hepatitis C
While no one wants to get diagnosed with a blood infection, hep C is 98% curable when you take the recommended course of treatment. Unlike the weekly interferon injections of the past, which delivered side effects as harsh as chemotherapy, treatment has come a long way in the past few years.
Thanks to a class of meds called direct-acting antivirals , most people with hep C can be completely cured of the disease in just a matter of weeks . DAAs are taken in daily tablet form and while some patients experience mild side effects, they can usually be managed with OTC meds.
DAAs target and eliminate proteins found in the hep C virus the two most common medications prescribed are Mavyret and Epclusa , both of which include a cocktail of different types of antiviral drugs in one pill.
In rare cases , DAAs dont work to clear the virus. When this happens, doctors will most often prescribe a more aggressive antiviral medication such as Vosevi. Because Vosevi is a potent combination of three antiviral drugs , it has a slightly higher burden of side effects, including:
If youre put on DAAs, your doctor might also prescribe a longer course of treatment to clear the infection and will know for sure if the virus is gone by measuring how much viral genetic material is in your blood.
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What Do You Do If You Become Ill
Talk to your health care provider about getting tested if you think you:
- are at risk
- may have hepatitis C
If you have hepatitis C, tell those who may have been exposed to your blood or bodily fluids. They should get tested and be treated if necessary. Bodily fluids, like semen and vaginal fluid, are a concern because they could be carrying small amounts of infected blood.
Some adults with hepatitis C will recover from the disease on their own within 6 months. Until your health care provider confirms your recovery status, you are still contagious and can spread the disease.
After recovery, you are no longer contagious because you will not have the disease anymore. But you can get hepatitis C again.
Unfortunately, most adults with hepatitis C:
- cannot recover on their own
- develop a more serious form of the disease if they are sick for longer than 6 months
When To Seek Medical Advice
See your GP if you persistently have any of the later symptoms listed, or if they keep returning. They may recommend having a blood test that can check for hepatitis C.
Read more about diagnosing hepatitis C
None of these symptoms mean you definitely have hepatitis C, but it’s important to get them checked out.
You should also speak to your GP about getting tested if there’s a risk you’re infected, even if you don’t have any symptoms. This particularly includes people who inject drugs or have done so in the past.
Read about the causes of hepatitis C for more information about who’s at risk of having the infection.
Page last reviewed: 27 October 2021 Next review due: 27 October 2024
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Acute Vs Chronic Hepatitis C Infection
Acute hepatitis C infection refers to symptoms that appear within 6 months of newly acquiring the virus. About 20% to 30% of those who acquire hepatitis C experience acute illness. After this, the body either clears the virus or goes on to develop chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis C infection refers to long-lasting infection. The majority of people who have acute hepatitis C infection go on to develop the chronic form of the illness.
What Does The Future Look Like After Hepatitis C Treatment
Because DAAs are so effective and can completely cure the disease, most of those with hep C go on to live normal, healthy lives. But there is a caveat in all this: DAAs are not vaccines and cant prevent you from getting the infection again .
If you engage in the same behaviors that led to the infection , youll be at risk for contracting the disease again. Be safe.
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Hepatitis C And Liver Transplantation
Some people with advanced hepatitis C infection and severe liver damage undergo a liver transplant, but that doesn’t eradicate the infection. Patients with active infection at the time of the transplant will develop hepatitis C in the new liver. Sometimes the infection recurs even when patients are on antiviral treatment. Those who have achieved sustained virologic response – meaning no detectable virus in the blood 6 months after treatment – have a very low risk of developing hepatitis C infection in the new liver.