Hepatitis C (HCV) is a contagious liver disease that comes from being infected with the Hepatitis C virus. The word “hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver. The inflammation of the liver could be from many causes, such as viruses like hepatitis A, B or C being among them; other causes of inflammation can include medications such as antibiotics, over the counter medicines or herbal supplements, etc. If you have been told that you have “hepatitis”, it is important to let your physician do the necessary workup and identify the true cause for it.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne disease, caused by the hepatitis C virus, the most common blood-borne disease in the US, in fact. HCV is spread when there is direct contact with an infected person’s blood. HCV can have similar symptoms to hepatitis A or B, but hepatitis C can actually lead to very severe symptoms, including chronic liver disease and even death.
Hepatitis C is actually the leading cause of liver transplants in the United States. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, as there are for hepatitis A and B, but research is underway in attempts to develop one. Numerous treatment regimens are available and revolutionary new drugs have been proven to cure many that undergo treatment.
Symptoms of Hepatitis C
In many cases, hepatitis C doesn’t cause symptoms, even for people who have been infected for a long time. But, for those who do demonstrate symptoms, they typically can include:
- Joint pain.
- Abdominal pain.
- Itchy skin.
- Sore muscles.
- Dark urine.
- Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and whites of eyes, which may occur rarely at the time of infection, or sometimes during later stages of the disease.
Types Of Hepatitis C
The Hepatitis C virus can cause both acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) infection which means that the severity of symptoms can vary between mild, weeks-long infection to a lifelong, serious battle with the repercussions of the virus.
The less serious type of HCV infection, called acute, has symptoms that can range from asymptomatic (meaning that there are no outward signs of the infection) to very mild illness. It usually lasts 6 months or less. Acute HCV is not typically associated with life-threatening characteristics of the more serious Chronic HCV infections. The World Health Organization reports that, “About 15–25% of [acute HCV] infected persons spontaneously clear the virus within 6 months of infection without any treatment.”
However, the majority of those infected with hepatitis C, about 75-85% of HCV infected individuals have the more serious chronic HCV infections. Of these individuals with chronic HCV infection, the potential for further development of the illness into cirrhosis of the liver is 15–30% in a 20-year span. Other serious liver issues that can be caused by hepatitis C are liver damage, liver failure, and liver cancer.
How is Hepatitis C Transmitted?
Hepatitis C is can be spread by:
- Sharing of hypodermic needles.
- Getting a tattoo or piercing with unsterilized needles.
- Blood transfusions, particularly ones received before 1992 when it became standard to screen for hepatitis C in the donated blood.
- Transmission from an infected mother to her newborn.
- Sexual contact, although less common.
The Centers for Disease Control has new recommendations, as of August 16, 2012, for many in the Baby Boomer generation, born between 1945 and 1965, in the United States to get tested for hepatitis C. The CDC estimates that the population born between 1945 and 1965 make up 75% of all hepatitis C cases despite only comprising 27% of the total population. Unfortunately, many of these individuals do not show symptoms and their illness goes untreated. It is for this reason that hepatitis c health tests for Baby Boomers are recommended and that a patient receives subsequent treatment to prevent any further damage to the liver.
The team of doctors with GI Alliance would like to encourage everyone that is at risk or in the Baby Boomer age bracket to get tested for hepatitis C in Baton Rouge. It can be done in conjunction with other wellness procedures, like your colonoscopy. The physicians can also recommend treatment options for anyone who may discover that they are in fact positive for hepatitis C.