Topics covered in this snack-sized chapter:
Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with hepatitis C virus (HCV).
It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness.
HCV is usually spread when blood from a person infected with HCV enters the body of someone who is not infected.
HCV is among the most common viruses that infect the liver.
It is estimated that 3–4 million people are infected with HCV each year.
Some 130–170 million people are chronically infected with HCV and at risk of developing liver cirrhosis and/or liver cancer.
More than 350, 000 people die from HCV-related liver diseases each year.
HCV infection is found worldwide.
Countries with high rates of chronic infection are Egypt (22%), Pakistan (4.8%) and China (3.2%).
The main mode of transmission in these countries is attributed to unsafe injections using contaminated equipment.
Hepatitis C includes following symptoms:
- Ascites (swelling in the stomach area)
- Edema (swelling of the hands, feet & legs)
- Eye or eyesight problems (blurred vision or dry eyes)
- Gray, yellow, white or light colored stools
- Hepatalgia (pain or discomfort in liver area)
- Inflammation in the joints
- Jaundice (yellowing of eyes and/or skin)
- Memory loss, mental confusion
- Sensitivity to heat or cold
- Slow healing and recovery
HCV is a small virus about 60 nanometers in size. It can only be seen using high power electron microscopes.
HCV is not related to the other viruses that cause hepatitis.
The virus contains nucleic acid in the form of RNA. Variations in the nucleic acid give rise to different 'genotypes' of HCV.
HCV reproduces ('replicates') primarily in liver cells
Following are the causes of HCV:
- Susceptibility to illness/flu
- Sharing needles while using illegal street drugs.
- Using non-sterile instruments and needles for tattooing and body piercing.
- Receiving organs (such as a kidney, liver, or pancreas) from a donor who is infected with HCV.
- Blood transfusion, which used to be a major way that HCV was spread. But today, screening tests are performed on all donated blood so this cause has almost been eliminated.
- Sharing personal care items such as razors, scissors, nail clippers, or a toothbrush with an infected person.
The virus is most commonly transmitted through exposure to infectious blood such as through:
- Engaging in high-risk sexual behavior (e.g., having multiple partners or not using condoms when having sex with an infected person).
- Receipt of contaminated blood transfusions
- Injections given with contaminated syringes
- Needle-stick injuries in health-care settings
It is less commonly transmitted through sex with an infected person and sharing of personal items contaminated with infectious blood.
Hepatitis C is not spread through breastmilk, food or water or by casual contact such as hugging, kissing and sharing food or drinks with an infected person.
Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C infection; however, you can take steps to protect yourself from becoming infected with hepatitis C virus and to prevent passing the virus to others.
The centers for disease control and prevention recommends the following:
- Being born to an HCV-infected mother
- Don't share personal care items that might have blood on them, such as razors or toothbrushes
- Avoid injected drugs or, for drug users, enter a treatment program
- Never share needles, syringes, water, or "works" (equipment for intravenous drug use) and get vaccinated against hepatitis A and hepatitis B if you are a drug user
- Consider the risks of getting tattoos or body piercings.
- You can get infected if the tools have someone else's blood on them or if the artist or piercer does not follow good health practices
There are no specific treatments for the symptoms of acute hepatitis C.
Doctors recommend bed rest, preventing dehydration, a healthy diet and avoidance of alcoholic beverages.
Most patients with mild to severe hepatitis C begin to feel better in two to three weeks and recover completely from their symptoms within four to eight weeks.
Synthetic forms of the protein interferon are used to treat some people with chronic hepatitis C.
- Don't donate blood, organs, or tissue if you have hepatitis C
- This can improve liver function in some people with hepatitis and diminishes symptoms, although it may cause side effects such as headache, fever and other flu-like symptoms.
- Sometimes this drug is used in combination with another drug, ribavirin.
Many chronic carriers remain symptom free or develop only a mild condition, chronic persistent hepatitis.
However, approximately 50 percent go on to develop the most serious complications of viral hepatitis: cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.
- Treatment is effective in 10 percent to 40 percent of patients.