What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a virus which contains RNA as a nucleic acid in its core and infects the liver. Most individuals infected with this virus do not show any significant symptoms until later on in the course of the disease. In fact most of them are not even aware of having an infected liver, unless they present with a seriously damaged organ.
Hepatitis can be transmitted from contact with blood, body fluids or sexual contact.
It is one of the several hepatitis causing viruses and which may result in cirrhosis of the liver.
Symptoms of hepatitis
The most common symptoms hepatitis C are rather vague and are commonly mistaken for another disease. These symptoms include:
• Flu –like symptoms
• Loss of appetite
• Muscle and joint pain
• Yellowish discoloration of the sclera
How do you get Hepatitis C
The virus Hepatitis C transmitted through the blood and to a lesser extent in the saliva, urine, semen, vaginal fluids and other body fluids of the body. Because of its high concentration in the blood, it is mostly transferred by blood-to-blood contact. The most common mode of transmission of this virus is the illicit sharing of needles by drug abusers. Unprotected sexual intercourse can be a mode of transmission. Needle tip injuries can also put many health care professionals at the risk of being infected. This virus can be transmitted from the mother to the child during pregnancy.
Blood is now screened for infection with hepatitis C as blood is the most common mode of transmission for this virus.
Risk factors for hepatitis C
The risk of transmission of Hepatitis C is increased in the following group of individuals:
• Drug addicts
• Health care workers dealing with hepatitis C patients
• HIV positive individuals
• Those who received a tattoo or piercing in an unsterilized environment with shared equipment
• Those who received blood transfusions before 1992
• Those who received clotting factors before 1987
• Those who received hemodialysis treatments for a long duration of time
• Those born to mothers who are positive for hepatitis C
• Those involved in unprotected sexual practices with multiple partners
Stages of infection
The first six months after being infected with hepatitis C are known as acute infection. During this period, a few infected individuals may be able to fight the infection and be free of the infection. Around 25% of individuals can be free of this virus within this period.
The remaining 75% who cannot fight off the infection in the first six months develop a chronic infection. In these individuals the virus stays in the body for many years and will cause chronic damage to the liver.
Depending on the other risk factors involved, like alcohol abuse, those who develop a chronic liver disease may go on to further develop liver scarring known as cirrhosis of the liver . 10-40% individuals with chronic liver disease may develop a cirrhosis of the liver prognosis 20 years after catching the infection.
Furthermore, 20% of these individuals with chronic disease can develop liver failure and 1 in 20 can develop liver cancer.
Testing for Hepatitis C
Tests for detecting antibodies by serological methods and amplification of the viral genome by PCR method have been developed for testing for the presence of hepatitis C RNA (HCV RNA) in blood. Because this virus does not cause any significant symptoms, testing is highly recommended for individuals who form the high risk groups such as drug addicts or those with multiple sexual partners. This can be done through a simple blood test. The sooner the treatment is started after an infection, the higher the chances for recovery.
Is there a Hepatitis C Cure?
There are a few anti-viral medications which can be used for treatment for infection of Hep C. These drugs can be used to stop the virus multiplying in the body and preventing further liver damage.
Two of the most widely used antiviral drugs are Ribavirin and Interferon.
There are many different types of hepatitis C viruses which are known as its genotypes. Three of the most common genotypes include 1, 2 and 3. Some of these genotypes respond better to treatment than others.
Those individuals infected with genotype 2 and 3 of hepatitis C virus have better chances of recovery after treatment as compared to genotype 1.