What is Hepatitis C?
Medically known as inflammation of the liver, Hepatitis C is a dreaded viral infection that can take a toll on person's health when acquired. Though, there can be many reasons for liver inflammation, such as alcohol, drug, medication and other hepatitis viruses, hepatitis C virus is known to be a common cause for it.
According to the reports of World Health Organisation, more than 25,000 people in Canada alone are suffering from Hepatitis C, yet they are unaware of it. This is because of the absence of symptoms.
How Does Hepatitis C Spread?
Hepatitis C can spread from one person to another via use of unsterilized or infected blood products such as needles, injections etc. It spreads when a healthy person comes in contact with body fluids or blood of an infected person. The virus of hepatitis C does not spread through casual contact, food and water. The virus of hepatitis C can pass through blood and cause the infection to a perfectly healthy person. The infection can spread from an infected mother to her baby during the pregnancy itself.
Moreover, having sex with a person suffering from STD or an HIV infection can also led to hepatitis C.
Though, modern day transfusion procedures have completely eliminated the scope of contracting hepatitis C infection, yet screening needs to be properly done to prevent the virus transmission.
Signs & Symptoms of Hepatitis C
As mentioned above, many times people may have hepatitis C virus in the body, but they are not aware about it due to the absence of hepatitis C symptoms. This is the reason why hepatitis C is often known as the "silent epidemic." The average time it takes from the contact of the hepatitis C virus to the onset of its symptoms varies between 4 to 10 weeks.
When the hepatitis C infection gets acute, patient starts experiencing the symptoms which are just like any other symptoms of viral infection such as:
- Different colour stools.
- Abdominal pain.
- Body Pain and Pain in Joints.
- Loss of Appetite.
When Does Hepatitis C Become Chronic?
In majority of the patients, the hepatitis C infection becomes chronic when the virus sustains in the body for more than a year and this requires immediate medical attention. In absence of proper diagnosis and treatment, chronic hepatitis C can turn into a life threatening condition.
What are the Symptoms of Chronic Hepatitis C?
While, usually people do not have many physical symptoms; however, chronic hepatitis C infection can lead to regular and recurring episodes of abdominal pain, fatigue and painful joints. After 25 to 30 years of the hepatitis C infection, hepatitis virus could cause liver fibrosis, which can turn into cirrhosis causing complete failure of the liver or even liver cancer. While even the doctors cannot define the actual length of time the virus in the infected person remains contagious; it's imperative once a person has contracted hepatitis virus, he/she should definitely follow precautions to prevent its transmission.
Hepatitis c in most of the people can turn into chronic hepatitis infection. Further, in absence of proper treatment it can translate into liver cirrhosis or even cancer of the liver requiring liver transplantation for survival.
Treatment of Hepatitis C
Unfortunately, not all people respond positively to the line of treatment done for hepatitis C. Treatment is adopted in cases where people suffer from major liver cirrhosis or have severe inflammation that is diagnosed with a biopsy.
People who don't have considerable liver damage may choose to delay the treatment or choose to monitor their condition via other tests like biopsy to find out the extent of liver damage. Chalking out the correct line of treatment for hepatitis C depends on many factors that need to be considered by the doctor at every stage of monitoring. Chronic hepatitis on the other hand requires intensive medications, which if do not work, are replaced with liver transplantation.
Due to the introduction of new medications to treat viral infections, there has been a progress in treatment methods for hepatitis C. Antiviral therapy is often followed that can help to reduce liver damage while improving cirrhosis and eliminating the need of liver transplantation. However, the antiviral medications given for the therapy can also cause side effects such as:
- Weight Loss.
- Muscular and Joint Pain.
- Skin Rashes.
Treatment is started as soon as the testing confirms that the patient has Hepatitis C and the genetic type of virus causing the infection is identified. It is also referred to as the genotype of the virus which can either be 1, 2 or 3 commonly. Once the genotype level is identified and the extent of damage is measured, a treatment plan for Hepatitis C is prescribed.
Ways to Prevent Further Liver Damage in Hepatitis C
- In case the patient has been diagnosed with the infection, one can take appropriate preventive measures to avoid further liver damage.
- Avoid consumption of alcohol and refrain from smoking completely as both these activities can trigger further liver damage.
- Certain herbal medications or products can also escalate liver damage. They need to be identified and should be kept away from use. Consult your doctor before starting on any herbs.
Prevention of Hepatitis C
Unfortunately, we do not have any vaccine known that can help to prevent this infection. Hence, avoiding exposure from HCV is the only key to prevention that can be done to reduce the risk of infection.
- Avoid sharing any personal items such as razor, comb, toothbrush, nail cutter etc. that can allow blood contact with the infected person.
- Consider usage of latex condoms during sex for safety and prevention against STDs as well as hepatitis C infection.
- Avoid indulging in sex with multiple partners to prevent contracting hepatitis C.
- In case you are into medical profession, make sure to wear masks and gloves while disposing off needles, syringe or other contaminated objects to prevent spreading of hepatitis C.
- If you are getting tattooed, you need to be extremely wary of the process. You should double check that the needles being used are sterilized well before use.
- Drug usage should be avoided. One should consider taking part in a rehabilitation programme to get rid of the addiction.
- Immediately seek medical help, if you find any of the above symptoms are persisting and avoid any delay in diagnosis. The sooner the diagnosis, the better is the prognosis of hepatitis C.
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