Wednesday, May 18, 2022

What Is Hepatitis C And How Do You Catch It

Is There A Hepatitis C Vaccine

What is Hepatitis C and Why Should You Care?

Prevention truly is your best medicine for hepatitis C because unlike its cousins, hepatitis A and B, hepatitis C has no vaccine. Thats not for lack of trying: There are currently clinical trials underway to find a vaccine, and in a study published last year in Science Advances, scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, showed proof of concept for the development of a vaccine. But despite this progress, not every expert is convinced a vaccine is in the near offing. There are people who have tried to make a hepatitis C vaccine for 20 years and couldnt do it, says Dr. Dieterich. This is a virus that mutates a lot.

In other words, going on the offense with a commitment to healthy behaviors is going to be your best defense against hepatitis C. You can set yourself up for a healthy future, too, by taking advantage of the May 19 National Hepatitis Testing Day and getting yourself checked. Remember, the disease is curablebut only if you know you have it. Go get tested for free today: You literally have nothing to lose.

Lagging on important health checkups? Let this Checklist of Annual Physical Exams for Women be your cheat sheet.

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.

Who Is At Risk For Hepatitis C

HCV is more common in adults than in children. Rates of HCV infection in the United States almost tripled from 2010 to 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . Most of these new infections are in young people who inject drugs many of whom moved from abusing prescription pain relievers to injecting heroin, which often is cheaper and easier to get.

Because women of reproductive age are part of this group, experts worry that more newborns will be at risk for HCV.

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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:

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

Baby Boomers Are Especially Vulnerable

Hepatitis C Symptoms: What Are They and What You Can Do

“The hepatitis C virus didn’t have a name or a screening test until in 1989,” Reau says. “That means people born between 1945 and 1965, the group referred to as ‘baby boomers,’ are at highest risk of infection. They grew up before health care facilities started taking standard precautions, like not sharing vials of medicine among patients and requiring staff to wear gloves.”

The CDC reports that baby boomers are five times more likely to have Hepatitis C than other adults, accounting for 75% of those living with the disease.

These are some other reasons you may be at risk:

  • You have engaged in high-risk behaviors like IV drug use or unprotected sex
  • Your biological mother has/had hepatitis C
  • You received blood transfusions, an organ transplant or dialysis before 1989
  • You were or are currently incarcerated

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What Occupations Have Increased Risk Of Hepatitis C

The risk of acquiring hepatitis C from the workplace depends on the amount of exposure to human blood or blood products and needlestick injuries. In general, occupational groups with increased risk include workers such as healthcare workers, dentists, and laboratory personnel who are repeatedly exposed to human blood and who are at risk of needlestick injuries.

Awareness Prevention And Early Diagnosis Are Essential

There’s a good reason why hepatitis C is known as a “silent killer.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 3.2 million Americans live with chronic hepatitis C infection, which is transmitted through infected bodily fluids like blood and semen, and causes inflammation of the liver. Yet up to 75% of people who have hepatitis C aren’t aware they have it.

Most of those living with the virus experience only mild symptoms or don’t have any symptoms at all until they develop serious liver damage or another life-threatening liver disease. Unfortunately, that means they aren’t getting diagnosed and treatment is delayed until the later stages when irreversible liver damage has occurred.

Here, hepatologistNancy Reau, MD, associate director of the Solid Organ Transplant Program at Rush University Medical Center, explains who is at risk for hepatitis C and offers advice to help you protect yourself.

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Can You Have Hep C And Not Know It

We said this illness is sneaky, and in fact, most people with hepatitis C dont have any symptoms at the time they are diagnosed, says Dr. Goff. That makes it difficult to trace exactly where and when someone contracted the virus. Unfortunately, it also gives the virus time to wreak havoc on the liver before you feel sick enough to seek treatment.

Until we started actively screening the population, patients could be infected with hepatitis C and have absolutely no idea they had it, Dr. Fox says. Weve had to change our screening recommendations over time so that were not only testing people who self-report a history of a risk factor.

Currently, the CDC recommends all adults get screened for hepatitis C at least once in their lifetime, and pregnant women should be screened during each pregnancy. For people with ongoing risk factorsfor example, for people who regularly inject drugs or share needlesmore frequent testing is recommended.

If I Have Hepatitis C Infection Does This Mean I Am Going To Have Other Health Problems

How is Hepatitis C spread? — Mayo Clinic

Hepatitis C can cause scarring of the liver leading to cirrhosis and liver cancer. Other conditions have also been linked to hepatitis C and are known as extra-hepatic manifestations of hepatitis C. They include diabetes mellitus, arthritis, hypothyroid, and aplastic anemia among other conditions. Talk to your provider for more information.

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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.

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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How Will I Know If My Treatment Works

The goal of treatment is to reduce the amount of the hepatitis C virus in your blood to levels that cant be detected after 24 weeks of therapy. The amount of the virus in your blood is called your viral load. At the end of your treatment, your doctor will need to measure your viral load and find out how healthy your liver is. He or she may repeat many of the same tests that were done when you were first diagnosed with hepatitis C.

If your blood has so few copies of the virus that tests cant measure them, the virus is said to be undetectable. If it stays undetectable for at least 6 months after your treatment is finished, you have what is called a sustained virologic response . People who have an SVR have a good chance of avoiding serious liver problems in the future.

Treatment may not reduce your viral load. You may not have an SVR after treatment. If thats true, your doctor will discuss other treatment options with you. For example, if 1 round of treatment did not decrease your viral load enough, your doctor may recommend a second round. Even if treatment doesnt keep you from having active liver disease, lowering your viral load and controlling chronic liver inflammation may help you feel better for a longer time.

How Does A Person Get Hepatitis

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A person can get hepatitis A through the following sources:

  • Food or water contaminated with the fecal matter of an infected person
  • Sexual contact

A person can get hepatitis B in many ways, which include:

  • Having sexual contact with an infected person
  • Sharing needles
  • Being in direct contact with an infected persons blood
  • Transferred from mother to the fetus
  • Getting an infected needle prick
  • Being in contact with an infected persons body fluid

A person can get hepatitis C through:

  • Sharing infected needles
  • Being in direct contact with an infected persons blood
  • Getting an infected needle prick
  • Having sexual contact with an infected person

Hepatitis D can be spread through:

  • Transferred from mother to the fetus
  • Being in contact with the infected fluid or blood
  • A person can get hepatitis D only if they are infected previously with hepatitis B.

Hepatitis E mainly infects people who eat or drink food or water contaminated with the virus. Under-cooked foods can also spread hepatitis E. It is more dangerous in pregnant women.

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What Happens In Your Body With Hep C

Once the virus enters your bloodstream, it heads for your liver. Hepatitis C is a viral infection, and its a virus that lives primarily in the liver, says Dr. Goff. The reason it causes trouble is our immune system tries to get rid of it, but the virus mutates quite quickly, so it keeps alluding being caught. The liver gets caught in the crossfire.

Over time, the chronic infection can lead to serious liver scarring and damage, increasing the risk of life-threatening liver failure and cancer, Dr. Fox says.

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.

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If I Have Hepatitis How Can I Avoid Giving It To Someone Else

For hepatitis A, one of the best things you can do is wash your hands a lot. That will keep the virus out of food and drinks.

If you have hepatitis B and C, you need to find ways to keep others from making contact with your blood. Follow these tips:

  • Cover your cuts or blisters.
  • Carefully throw away used bandages, tissues, tampons, and sanitary napkins.
  • Don’t share your razor, nail clippers, or toothbrush.
  • If your blood gets on objects, clean them with household bleach and water.
  • Don’t breastfeed if your nipples are cracked or bleeding.
  • Don’t donate blood, organs, or sperm.
  • If you inject drugs, don’t share needles or other equipment.

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How Is Hepatitis C Spread Will My Loved Ones Catch It From Me

What to know about Hepatitis C

Household transmission of hepatitis C is extremely rare. Here are some ways the virus is transmitted:

  • Injecting drugs, such as heroin, even if it’s only once. The needles and other drug “works” that are used to prepare or inject the drug may have had someone else’s blood that contained HCV on them.
  • Being a health care worker with frequent contact with blood on the job, especially from accidental needlesticks.
  • Having a mother who had hepatitis C when she gave birth to you.
  • Sharing items such as razors, toothbrushes, and other personal health items that might have had blood on them.
  • Getting a tattoo with unsanitary instruments, as they might have someone else’s blood on them.
  • Having unprotected sex with multiple partners. Although hepatitis C rarely is spread through sexual contact, it can happen.
  • The number one risk factor for infection and transmission is sharing needles for intravenous drug use. Most people who use IV drugs become infected with HCV within one year of sharing needles. Learn more.

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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.

    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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    Who Can Be Treated For Hepatitis C

    Treatment decisions should be made by both you and your provider. Current treatments for hepatitis C are very successful and can cure most people of the virus.

  • Treatment regimens exist for all genotypes.
  • Treatment regimens exist for HCV-HIV coinfection.
  • Treatment regimens exist for all stages of disease .
  • Treatment regimens exist for patients who have taken treatment in the past but were not successful.
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