Hepatitis C: The Ticking Time Bomb

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In fact, most people don’t know they have the hepatitis C infection until liver damage shows up, decades later, during routine medical tests.
Hepatitis C is one of several hepatitis viruses and is generally considered to be among the most serious of these viruses. It is passed through contact with contaminated blood — most commonly through needles shared during illegal drug use. It is also spread by reusing IV (drip) needles and tubes.
Dentists Instruments that are not properly sterilized is also one of the leading causes of Hepatitis C infection.

WHO IS AT RISK?

Your risk of hepatitis C infection is increased if you

  • Were born to a woman with a hepatitis C infection.
  • If you are a health care worker who has been exposed to infected blood, such as may happen if an infected needle pierces your skin.
  • Have ever injected or inhaled illicit drugs.
  • Have HIV (AIDS)
  • Received a nose or ear piercing or tattoo in an unclean environment using unsterile equipment.
  • If you have or had CANCER AND CHEMOTHERAPY.
  • Anyone who has ever injected or inhaled illicit drugs
  • Anyone with unexplained, unusual liver function test results
  • Health care and emergency workers who have been exposed to blood or accidental needle sticks
  • People with hemophilia who were treated with clotting factors.
  • People who have ever undergone long-term hemodialysis treatments
  • People who received blood transfusions or organ transplants
  • Sexual partners of anyone diagnosed with hepatitis C infection
  • People with HIV infection

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Hepatitis C infection usually causes no symptoms until late in the course of chronic infection. In its earliest stages, beginning about one to three months after exposure to the virus, the following signs and symptoms occur in a small proportion

In the early stages. Acute phase

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or poor appetite
  • Stomach pain
  • Dark-coloured urine
  • Yellow discolouration in the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Fever
  • Muscle and joint pains

Signs and symptoms of chronic infection typically become evident after years and are the result of liver damage caused by the virus. These may initially include the symptoms of acute infection. Then, over time, signs and symptoms may include

  • Bleeding easily
  • Bruising easily
  • Itchy skin
  • Fluid accumulation in your abdomen.
  • Swelling in your legs
  • Weight loss
  • Confusion, drowsiness and slurred speech
  • Spider-like blood capillary vessels on your skin

COMPLICATIONS

Hepatitis C infection that continues over many years can cause significant complications, such as:

  • Scarring of the liver tissue (cirrhosis). After 20 to 30 years of hepatitis C infection, cirrhosis may occur. Scarring in your liver makes it difficult for your liver to function.
  • Liver cancer. A small number of people with hepatitis C infection may develop liver cancer.
  • Liver failure. A liver that is severely damaged by hepatitis C may be unable to function adequately.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR

For hepatitis C infection, some basic questions to ask your doctor include

  • How much hepatitis C virus do I have in my body?
  • Has the hepatitis C virus damaged my liver?
  • Do I need treatment for hepatitis C infection?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • What are the benefits of each treatment option?
  • What are the potential risks of each treatment option?
  • Is there one treatment you think is best for me?
  • I have other medical conditions. How will these affect my hepatitis C treatment?
  • Should my family be tested for hepatitis C?
  • Is it possible for me to spread hepatitis C to others?
  • How can I protect the people around me from hepatitis C?
  • What will determine whether I should plan for a follow-up visit?
  • What medications should I avoid?

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TESTS AND DIAGNOSIS

1. Screening for Hepatitis C

Testing for hepatitis C infection in people who have a high risk of coming in contact with the virus may help doctors begin treatment or recommend lifestyle changes that may slow liver damage. This is recommended because hepatitis C infection often begins damaging the liver before it causes signs and symptoms.

2. Blood tests to diagnose hepatitis C

Blood tests may help to Determine whether you have the hepatitis C virus, Measure the quantity of the hepatitis C virus in your blood (viral load)

TREATMENTS AND DRUGS

Following are the treatment for Hepatitis C.

1. Antiviral medications

Hepatitis C infection is treated with antiviral medications intended to clear the virus from your body. The goal of treatment is to have no hepatitis C virus detected in your body at least 12 weeks after you complete treatment.

Although medications to treat hepatitis C have been available for decades and have gradually improved with time, they have had serious side effects and required that a person be treated from 24 to 72 weeks. Side effects included depression, flu-like symptoms, and loss of healthy red or white blood cells (anemia or neutropenia). Therefore many people discontinued treatment.

2. Liver transplant

If your liver has been severely damaged, a liver transplant may be an option. During a liver transplant, the surgeon removes your damaged liver and replaces it with a healthy liver. Treatment with antiviral medications usually continues after a liver transplant, since hepatitis C infection is likely to recur in the new liver.

3. Vaccinations

Although there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, your doctor will likely recommend that you receive vaccines against the hepatitis A and B viruses. These are separate viruses that also can cause liver damage and complicate treatment of hepatitis C.

4. Lifestyle and home remedies

If you receive a diagnosis of hepatitis C, your doctor will likely recommend certain lifestyle changes. These measures will help keep you healthy longer and protect the health of others as well:

  • Stop drinking alcohol. Alcohol speeds the progression of liver disease.
  • Avoid medications that may cause liver damage. Review your medications with your doctor, including the over-the-counter medications you take as well as herbal preparations and dietary supplements. Your doctor may recommend avoiding certain medications.
  • Help prevent others from coming in contact with your blood. Cover any wounds you have and don’t share razors or toothbrushes. Don’t donate blood, body organs or semen, and advise health care workers that you have the virus.

PREVENTION

Protect yourself from hepatitis C infection by taking the following precautions:

  • Stop using illicit drugs. If you use illicit drugs, seek help.
  • Be cautious about body piercing and tattooing. If you choose to undergo piercing or tattooing, look for a reputable shop. Ask questions beforehand about how the equipment is cleaned. Make sure the employees use sterile needles. If employees won’t answer your questions, look for another shop.
  • Practice safer sex. Don’t engage in unprotected sex with multiple partners or with any partner whose health status is uncertain. Sexual transmission between monogamous couples may occur, but the risk is low.

Get yourself vaccinated for Hepatitis C today!

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