The liver is the body’s “food processor.” It tackles everything you ingest, aids digestion, stores nutrients, regulates various body functions and clears out toxins.
Hepatitis C – commonly referred to as hep C – is a contagious, blood-borne, viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver. The condition can be mild to severe and last for a few weeks, or it may become chronic.
Acute hepatitis C is a short-term infection that develops within six months of exposure. Chronic hepatitis C remains long-term and can cause liver damage, cancer, cirrhosis (scarring of liver tissue) and death.
Hepatitis C affects 3 – 4 million people in the US. Many more remain undiagnosed and unaware. People can live with Hep C for decades with no indications, while their liver is slowly and silently attacked. By the time symptoms appear (yellow-tinged skin, for example), liver damage is often advanced.
Annually more people die from hep C than from HIV.
How is Hep C Transmitted?
Hepatitis C is contracted by coming into contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person. It is not spread through casual contact, hugging, kissing, or sharing eating or cooking utensils. It cannot be transmitted through food or water.
Activities that may put a person at risk of contracting hepatitis C include:
- Intravenous drug use
- Tattoos/body piercings using nonsterilized equipment and contaminated dyes
- Sexual activity – especially among gay men
- Receiving blood transfusions or organs
- Long-term dialysis use
- Accidental needle pokes – especially in high-risk jobs such as in the health care industry
- Sharing infected personal items such as razors, toothbrushes, and nail-care equipment
Diagnostic blood tests are the only way to determine if the hep C virus is present.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 to 25 percent of hep C infections clear up spontaneously without treatment, although it is unclear how this happens.
Although there are vaccinations available to prevent hepatitis types A and B, there is none currently for hepatitis C.
Treatment for Hepatitis C
Treatment depends on the type of hepatitis C virus. Most Americans have genotype 1, followed by genotypes 2 and 3 with fewer occurrences of genotypes 4, 5 and 6.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a once-daily pill that combines the drugs elbasvir and grazoprevir. This combination is very effective at successfully treating hep C. Other drugs include a once-daily pill that combines the drugs sofosbuvir and ledipasvir, which cures most infections within 8-12 weeks.
When hepatitis C leads to cirrhosis of the liver, a liver transplant surgery may be necessary.
Sadly, the cost of treating hepatitis C remains prohibitive. Additionally, the treatment regimen for children and advanced cirrhosis and kidney failure cases needs to be made safer.
If you feel you may have been exposed to hepatitis C, contact Austin Gastroenterology in central Texas at (512) 454-4588 for an appointment. You can also use our convenient online appointment request form.