Hepatitis is a general term for inflammation
of the liver. As a result of this inflammation, cells are damaged and eventually the function of the liver is altered. Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver. HCV is usually a chronic, life-long infection that leads to complications, but rarely, can a patient recover from it completely. HCV is able to persist in the body because it is able to evade the immune system by changing its form. Hepatitis C patients do develop antibodies to the virus, but this immune response is inadequate to rid the body of the virus.
Hepatitis C virus is spread by direct contact with the blood or by sometimes body fluids of someone already infected with HCV. The primary methods of HCV transmission are though infected blood, blood products and needles. Prior to the late 1980s, people were at most risk for contracting the disease through blood transfusions. Today all blood and blood products are tested for HCV, so the risk of transmission this way is very low. Currently, the most common people at risk are IV drug users who share needles. HCV can be spread by sexual contact, but the rest is much less than other viruses. & a large percentage of cases, it is known how the patient contracted the virus. There was no evidence that kissing, hugging, sneezing, coughing, sharing food, water, eating utensils or drinking glasses, casual contact, or other contact without blood exposure is associated with any significant transmission of the hepatitis C virus.
What are the symptoms?
Most patients with hepatitis C have no symptoms, especially early in the disease. Symptoms that occur are usually mild, such as flu-like symptoms, nausea, and fatigue. However, it is not uncommon for a person to have no symptoms even as the disease is progressing. The lack of symptoms does not mean the infection is under control.
How is Hepatitis C diagnosed?
The search for hepatitis C (and other hepatitis viruses) usually begins either on a routine testing of blood on a particular population or when routine blood tests show an elevation in certain liver enzymes, specially ALT.
Tests such as an ultrasound and additional blood tests may be done to assess the function and condition of the liver. More blood tests will be needed after your visit to our office before request can be made for the approval of appropriate medication for you.
What is the treatment?
At this time, we have extremely effective medications with minimal side effects without the need for any injections as was the case in recent past. Only after your evaluation appropriate medication will be prescribed and request sent to insurance for approval of the drug.
Life style modification is quite important. Weight loss and avoidance of smoking and alcohol are strongly suggested.
Be vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B. Also get a Pneumococcal (pneumonia) vaccine along with yearly influenza vaccines. Review all of your prescription and over-the-counter medications with your doctor because some may worsen damage to the liver in HCV patients.
A last resort in the treatment of chronic hepatitis C is a liver transplant. This is reserved for very severe cases that have not responded to medication and/or that have severe liver damage and liver failure.
Are there long -term complications of this disease?
It may take anywhere from 10 to 40 years of HCV infection to develop serious liver damage. Some patients will develop cirrhosis, or scarring, of the liver. As the degree of cirrhosis increases, it becomes more difficult for the liver to perform its function. In patients with cirrhosis, a small percentage will go on to develop liver cancer called hepatocellular carcinoma.
There is no vaccine currently available to prevent HCV infection. Therefore, precautions should always be taken to prevent a possible spite of the virus. This includes not sharing anything that is likely to hold and transmit blood (razors, manicure tools, toothbrushes, and specially IV drug needles). Avoid ear piercing and tattooing in places were sterile conditions are questionable always avoid contact with blood and body fluids from infected individuals