What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is an inflammation of the liver caused by a virus that is typically transmitted through contaminated blood and can cause both acute and chronic hepatitis, leading to severe liver damage.
Causes of Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C infection is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV)and is not transmissible by breast milk, food, water or through any casual contact from an infected person.
Common ways that hepatitis C virus can spread include:
- Sharing contaminated needles and syringes
- Unprotected sex with someone with hepatitis C (even if they don’t have symptoms)
- Receiving a transfusion of unscreened blood or blood products
- An infected pregnant mother passing the virus to their unborn baby
- Organ transplants
Symptoms of Hepatitis C
The condition is usually asymptomatic in the early stages. The symptoms may develop many years after the initial infection as a result of serious liver damage. Hepatitis C symptoms include:
- Easy bleeding
- Easy bruising
- Loss of weight
- Jaundice (yellow discoloration on the skin and eyes)
- Dark urine
- Itching of the skin
- Swelling in the legs
- Blood vessels on the skin in a spider-like pattern
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Joint pain
A blood test can be carried out to detect the presence of anti-HCV antibodies in people who might be infected. If an initial blood test shows that you have hepatitis C, then additional blood tests will be done:
- To measure the quantity of the hepatitis C virus in the blood
- To identify the genotype(genetic makeup) of the virus
Hepatitis C screening is recommended in the following individuals:
- People who inject recreational drugs
- People in prison
- Children born to infected mothers
- People with sexual partners who are hepatitis C-infected
- People with HIV infection
- People with tattoos or piercings
- Anyone with abnormal liver function test results with no identified cause
- Health care workers who are exposed to contaminated blood and needles
Treatment for Hepatitis C
Treatment for Hepatitis C includes:
- Medications: The drugs used to treat hepatitis C include interferons and antiviral drugs.
- Liver transplantation: In extreme cases, the surgeon removes your damaged liver and replaces it with a healthy one.
- Vaccinations: There is no vaccination available for hepatitis C, so your doctor might recommend vaccination against hepatitis A and B viruses since these viruses can complicate the course of chronic hepatitis C.
Precautions for hepatitis C include:
- Avoiding sharing needles, syringes, razors, or manicure tools
- Avoiding exposure to infectious blood and blood products
- Choosing tattoo and piercing parlors licensed by health departments
- Practicing safe sex