Hepatitis C

It is surprising to know that globally 130-150 million people are affected by chronic hepatitis C infection. People with hepatitis C develop cirrhosis or liver cancer.

About hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by Hepatitis C virus (HCV). It can be an acute or chronic infection that are asymptomatic. So, it is difficult to diagnose the infection in its early stages.

Transmission

The HCV virus is transmitted through blood. The common mode of transmission for both the sexes are:

  • Sharing of needles
  • Blood transfusions those are unscreened
  • Inadequate sterilization of medical equipment

In women, the exposure of blood may occur by manicurists, facialists, housekeeping, or nursing. Women infected with HCV may spread the infection to the sexual partner during menstrual cycle.

You must know that hepatitis C is not spread through milk, food, water or by causal physical contact.

Causes

Hepatitis C virus is the cause of hepatitis C infection. It is transmitted through blood to blood contact. The virus is RNA type. The virus stays in a dormant state until it enters the host cells, and is then replicated into billion viruses and circulates in the blood stream.

The hepatitis C symptoms in men and women slightly differ. The most commonly reported symptoms of hepatitis C virus are:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Jaundice
  • Colored stools
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite

The symptoms of HCV in women appear in the later stage. Though they occur in earlier stages, the symptoms are considered to be because of other conditions such as anemia, depression, or menopause. The hepatitis C symptoms in women include abdominal pain, loss of appetite, fatigue, and joint pain.

As hepatitis C is asymptomatic, signs can be observed when liver damage occurs. Liver cirrhosis is a complication of hepatitis C. Replacement of healthy liver tissue with hard scar tissue is seen in the case of liver cirrhosis. If it is left untreated, you may develop liver failure. Chronic liver failure may cause end-stage renal disease that requires liver transplantation. In few cases, liver cirrhosis may also develop into liver cancer.

Generally, HCV infection is diagnosed in two steps:

Serological testing: Screening for anti-HCV antibodies helps your doctor to identify the infection.

Nucleic acid test: If the test is positive for anti-HCV antibodies, then your doctor orders for a nucleic acid test to confirm chronic infection.

If you are diagnosed with the chronic hepatitis C infection, then your doctor would perform an assessment to confirm the stage of liver damage. This needs a liver biopsy or some non-invasive tests. Also, your doctor would order for the laboratory test to identify the genotype of hepatitis C strain for providing accurate treatment.

Early screening of HCV can prevent the infection and transmission as well. World Health Organization (WHO) recommends screening for the high-risk population groups that includes:

  • People who inject drugs
  • People who administer intranasal drugs
  • People who have sex with HCV affected partner
  • Children who are born to the HCV-infected mothers
  • People with immune suppressive diseases such as HIV or AIDS

The main goal of the treatment is to cure the infection and avoid damage to the liver. The cure rates depend on the strain that causes infection and the treatment regimen.

Earlier hepatitis C was treated with interferons and ribavirin which was injected weekly up to 48 weeks. Though the success rate of the treatment was good, there were life-threatening adverse reactions seen with the treatment.

Recently, new advances in medicine have developed antiviral drugs those are more effective, safer and well tolerated. The drugs are economical, and the duration of the treatment is up to 12 weeks.

No vaccine can prevent hepatitis C infection. So, the prevention of HCV infection focuses on reducing the risk of exposure to the virus. The following are the interventions that are helpful in reducing the risk of hepatitis C infection:

  • Promotion of correct use of condoms
  • Regular screening for hepatitis infections
  • Maintaining hand hygiene, by regular washing
  • Testing the donor’s blood before transfusion
  • Training of the health personnel in treating HCV-infected patient
  • Regular monitoring for early diagnosis of liver-related complications
  • Immunizing with hepatitis A and B viruses to avoid coinfection and liver damage