How To Prevent Hepatitis C
Cured of hepatitis C, however, doesnt mean immune. Hepatitis C is not a one-and-done illness like, say, the chickenpox. If you engage in the same behaviors that led to your hepatitis C infection the first time, you are likely to find yourself back in the same predicament.
Prevention, then, is all about avoiding that list of things that cause the viral infection. That means being super cautious with any activity that involves blood contact, including not sharing needles if you use drugs, avoiding tattoos and piercings at places that do not practice proper hygiene with the equipment, and only using your own personal items like razors and toothbrushes at home. Safe sex is recommended .
How Is It Spread
The hepatitis C virus is spread by direct contact with blood of an infected person. This can happen through:
- Sharing equipment used to inject drugs
- Blood transfusions and organ transplants prior to 1992 when widespread screening of the blood supply began
- Pregnant women infected with the virus passing it to their babies at birth.
- Sharing personal items, such as a toothbrushes, nail clippers, or razors that have blood on it
- Getting tattoos or body piercings in informal settings or with non-sterile equipment
- Poor infection control in health care facilities and residential care facilities
- Sexual transmission is possible, although rare. Things that increase sexual transmission of hepatitis C include: having a sexually transmitted disease or HIV infection, sex with multiple partners, or rough sex
- The hepatitis C virus is NOT spread by casual contact, such as hugging, or through sneezing, coughing, or sharing food and drinks.
Prevention Is The Best Medicine
Even though hepatitis C rarely spreads within a household, if you or a family member have the disease, it’s wise to take precautions to prevent its spread especially if anyone in your home is immune compromised, or has cuts or open sores that increase the risk of infection.
In general, use these common sense preventive tips:
- Unless you are in a long-term, monogamous relationship, practice safe sex.
- Clean up spilled or dried blood with a bleach-based cleaning solution and wear rubber gloves.
- Do not share razors.
- Do not share toothbrushes. “Though hepatitis C is not transmitted through saliva, there might be blood on the toothbrush,” Reau says.
Note that hepatitis C is not transmitted by sharing eating utensils, hugging, kissing, coughing or sneezing.
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Unregulated Tattoos And Body Piercings
Tattoos and body piercings use needles that pierce through your skin. Each piercing brings more opportunities for the needle to come in contact with infected blood. If you get a tattoo or body piercing using the same needle that’s been exposed to infected blood, it puts you at greater risk of contracting hepatitis C.
Differences Between Hepatitis A B And C
To recap, hepatitis means inflammation of the liver, and when its followed by A, B or C, it refers to three different viruses that can cause this inflammation. The symptoms, though, are the same regardless of typemainly jaundice, nausea, fatigue and dark urine. Hepatitis A is easily spread through close human contact, as well as contaminated food and drinking water. Hepatitis B is spread through blood and body fluid, while hepatitis C is spread only through blood. And while A and B can be prevented through vaccination, says Dr. Menon, there is no current vaccination for hepatitis C.
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What Should People Do If They Think They Have Been Exposed To Hcv
- Antibody detection tests: The antibody detection test determines the presence of antibodies of the virus, indicating exposure to HCV. An antibody is a substance found in the blood that the body produces in response to a virus. A doctor will likely order a second test to confirm whether the virus is still present in the bloodstream.
- Virus detection tests: The virus detection test identifies whether the virus is still present, indicating an active infection of HCV. This test may also be used after treatment to determine if the virus has been eliminated from the body.
- Liver biopsy: A liver biopsy is a procedure to remove a small piece of the liver so it can be examined with a microscope for signs of damage or disease. A liver biopsy is not necessary for diagnosis but is used to determine the severity of the disease and permanent damage. It is also helpful in determining the cause of the damage.
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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Symptoms Of Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C often does not 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:
- stomach ache
- feeling and being sick
The only way to know for certain if these symptoms are caused by hepatitis C is to get tested.
Baby Boomers Are Especially Vulnerable
“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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How Does Hepatitis C Progress
When someone is first infected with hepatitis C, most likely they have no symptoms and are unaware. Occasionally people experience fatigue, loss of appetite, weakness or sometimes having a yellow color in their skin or eyes. Although having any symptoms at all is rare, if they do occur, they usually go away within a few weeks.
Around 15-25% of people who are infected will spontaneously fight off the virus on their own and they will not have a chronic hepatitis C infection and no long term damage occurs.
But around 75-85% of people will develop chronic infection. Most of the time, people with chronic hepatitis C have no symptoms at the time of infection and no symptoms for years or even decades of chronic infection. The virus will be with them until they are successfully treated with hepatitis C medications.
Around 10-20% of people with chronic infection will slowly have gradual damage in the liver over years and will eventually develop cirrhosis . This can take 20 years or more from the time of the initial infection.
Cirrhosis is the replacement of liver cells with permanent scar tissue. Cirrhosis can lead to problems such as bleeding from veins in the esophagus, fluid buildup in the belly, and damaged brain function.Approximately 15% of people with cirrhosis will develop liver cancer during their lifetime. Drinking excessively can double the chance of liver cancer in people infected with HCV.
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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.
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Sometimes The Infection Goes Away On Its Own
Acute hepatitis is C is a short-term illness that occurs within the first six months after being exposed to the virus. Like the human papillomavirus , early acute hepatitis C can clear on its own without treatment this happens about 25% of the time.
However, it’s more likely that the virus will remain in your body longer than six months, at which point it’s considered to be chronic hepatitis C infection.
“Being younger or a woman tends to be a factor in whether the virus clears on its own, and genetics may play a role,” Reau says. “But we can’t determine with certainty which people are certain to clear the infection and which aren’t.”
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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What Are The Symptoms
Most people have no symptoms when they are first infected with the hepatitis C virus. If you do develop symptoms, they may include:
- Feeling very tired.
- Sore muscles.
- Dark urine.
- Yellowish eyes and skin . Jaundice usually appears only after other symptoms have started to go away.
Most people go on to develop chronic hepatitis C but still don’t have symptoms. This makes it common for people to have hepatitis C for 15 years or longer before it is diagnosed.
It’s Different Than Hepatitis A And B
Each form of hepatitis has its own specific virus that spreads and is treated differently. “Hepatitis simply means inflammation of the liver, or that the virus has an affinity for hurting the liver,” Reau says.
- Hepatitis A is an acute, short-term infection that often does not require treatment.
- Hepatitis B hides deep in the body and, like hepatitis C, is treated in a variety of ways, from antiviral medications to liver transplants.
“The viruses are different, but all of them should be taken very seriously since they can lead to significant liver disease and even death,” she adds.
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Hepatitis C Testing And Diagnosis
Doctors will start by checking your blood for:
Anti-HCV antibodies: These are proteins your body makes when it finds the hep C virus in your blood. They usually show up about 12 weeks after infection.
It usually takes a few days to a week to get results, though a rapid test is available in some places.
The results can be:
- Nonreactive, or negative:
- That may mean you donât have hep C.
- If youâve been exposed in the last 6 months, youâll need to be retested.
If your antibody test is positive, youâll get this test:
HCV RNA: It measures the number of viral RNA particles in your blood. They usually show up 1-2 weeks after youâre infected.
- The results can be:
- Negative: You donât have hep C.
- Positive: You currently have hep C.
You might also get:
Liver function tests: They measure proteins and enzyme levels, which usually rise 7 to 8 weeks after youâre infected. As your liver gets damaged, enzymes leak into your bloodstream. But you can have normal enzyme levels and still have hepatitis C. Learn the reasons why you should get tested for 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.
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When Should You Call Your Doctor
or other emergency services immediately if you have hepatitis C and you:
- Feel extremely confused or are having hallucinations.
- Are bleeding from the rectum or are vomiting blood.
- You think you may have been infected with hepatitis C.
- You have risk factors for hepatitis C, such as IV drug use.
- You have symptoms of hepatitis C and you think you may have been exposed to hepatitis C.
- A home test for hepatitis C virus shows that you have hepatitis C. More testing is needed to find out if you have an active infection.
In most areas, public health units are able to diagnose and provide assessment and treatment of hepatitis C.
What Does A Reactive Hcv Antibody Test Result Mean
A reactive or positive antibody test means you have been infected with the hepatitis C virus at some point in time.
Once people have been infected, they will always have antibodies in their blood. This is true if they have cleared the virus, have been cured, or still have the virus in their blood.
A reactive antibody test does not necessarily mean that you currently have hepatitis C and a follow-up test is needed.
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How Can I Make A Difference For People With Hepatitis C
Anyone can help raise awareness about this widespread disease. Citizens can write letters to their state representatives or local newspapers and get involved in volunteer efforts with liver disease or Veteran-affiliated organizations . Speaking at support groups and sharing your experience is also a good way to help others with HCV.
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Treatment Of Relapse Or Non
Sometimes you may need to take a different combination of medicines if your first round of treatment didn’t work very well. If it was not done before, your doctor may do a test to find out which genotype caused the infection. This may help the doctor choose a medicine that is more likely to cure the infection.
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Effective Treatments Are Available For Hepatitis C
New medication to treat for HCV have been approved in recent years. These treatments are much better than the previously available treatment because they have few side effects and do not need to be injected. There are several direct-acting antiviral HCV treatments that cure more than 95% of people who take them in 8 to 12 weeks. HCV treatment dramatically reduces deaths among people with HCV infection, and people who are cured of HCV are much less likely to develop cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Take Action! CDCs National Prevention Information Network Service Locator helps consumers locate hepatitis B and hepatitis C prevention, care, and treatment services.
How Do You Test For Hepatitis C
A simple blood test carried out by a healthcare professional will show whether you have the virus. You may also be given an extra test to see if your liver is damaged.
If youve got hepatitis C you should be tested for other STIs. Its important that you tell your recent sexual partner/s so they can also get tested and treated. Many people who have hepatitis C do not notice anything wrong, and by telling them you can help to stop the virus being passed on. It can also stop you from getting the infection again.
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