What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is among the most serious liver infections that can cause severe liver damage. As the name suggests, the damage is caused by the transmission of the hepatitis C virus. The virus affects a huge population of the US every year. Even though there are vaccines available for hepatitis A and B, there’s no such availability for hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C appears as a short-term illness for many people, while it becomes a long-term infection for some. When the virus affects someone for the long term, it can lead to life-threatening problems like liver cancer and cirrhosis. With someone having acute hepatitis C, the effects only last a few weeks.
Hepatitis C often has no instant symptoms as the person acquiring the virus does not get sick right away. The symptoms develop over some time, which can range from months to years. And when the symptoms appear, they often indicate advanced level liver disease. That’s why it becomes so crucial to prevent the spread of disease before it’s too late. Getting tested for the virus and taking preventive treatments can cure a person in a couple of months.
What are the Symptoms of Hepatitis C?
Even though there are no initial symptoms in people with hepatitis C, once the virus has entered the bloodstream, one can notice a few effects. Some of them are:
- Dark urine
- Stomach pain
- Joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
The symptoms can take some time to show up and indicate that the virus entered the body weeks or months ago. Some of these symptoms usually take around 2 to 12 weeks. A person carrying hepatitis C without showing any symptoms can spread the disease further through blood or bodily fluids.
There are also some advanced symptoms of hepatitis C that you should be aware of.
- Kidney failure
- Fluid build-up in legs
- Frequent bruising and bleeding
- Muscle loss
- Problem concentrating and confusion.
- Weight loss
- Intense itching
- Veins imitating spider-web on the skin
Different Stages of Hepatitis C
The virus can have a different effect on different individuals. There are several stages of HCV that one should know of.
- Incubation period: The incubation period usually happens between the exposure and spread of disease in the body. This period is known for lasting between two weeks to one month.
- Acute hepatitis C – This s a mild case of the virus where the illness occurs for the short term. This lasts for six months after the entry of the virus into the body. Once the period is over, the body itself gets rid of the virus and does not have any long-term effects.
- Chronic hepatitis C – Chronic hepatitis C, on the other hand, affects more than half of the people acquiring the virus. This usually happens when the virus is left untreated for a longer period (longer than six months). Chronic hepatitis C can lead to severe issues such as cirrhosis and liver cancer. That is why it should be taken very seriously.
- Cirrhosis: The disease leads to the replacement of healthy liver cells with unhealthy scar tissue and leads to inflammation. This happens after two to three decades of having the untreated virus in the body. The disease spreads faster if the person also has HIV or daily alcohol intake.
- Liver cancer: Once cirrhosis is acquired, there are high chances of a person getting liver cancer. Therefore, it is necessary to get tested at regular intervals to avoid such a situation as there are no physical symptoms during the early stages of hepatitis C.
How do you get the hepatitis C virus?
The virus is majorly spread through blood-to-blood transmission of an infected person to a healthy person. Here are some of how one can get exposed to the virus.
- Having sex with an infected person.
- Sharing needles for drugs or injections
- Sharing personal items such as nail clippers or razor blades
- Getting a tattoo with an infected or unclean needle
- From mother to child during childbirth.
- During organ transplant
One thing to remember is that there are chances of contracting the hepatitis C virus again if you had it in the past. So, it becomes crucial to get tested at regular intervals even if there are no telltale signs.
Myths about hepatitis C virus transmission
There are some myths about the transmission of the virus. The virus can only transmit through blood and the exchange of bodily fluids. There’s no way to catch the virus through:
- Holding hands
- Coughing or sneezing
- Mosquito bite
- Sharing food or utensils
Treatment and Medication for hepatitis C
In acute hepatitis C, the virus usually gets cleared on its own over six months. It also depends on the immune system of a person. If the immune system is not strong enough to clear the virus, medications can help. That is why there is no such recommended treatment for that. But treatment becomes crucial in the case of chronic hepatitis C.
There are several medications available for hepatitis C. The treatment itself includes antivirals. Medications like Interferon, ribavirin, and peginterferon are among the main treatments used to treat hepatitis C. These medications can limit the spread of the virus and inhibit its growth. But they can also have side effects, including flu-like symptoms, fatigue, skin rash, anemia, depression, anxiety, diarrhea, and nausea.
There are medications known as DAAs or direct-acting antivirals that work towards removing HCV from the body and preventing liver damage. Some of the brands include Zepatier, Epclusa, Mavyret, Harvoni, and more. Velakast medication is used to treat chronic hepatitis C and is usually prescribed as a combination with other antiviral medications such as ribavirin. Before starting any medications, doctors usually do a small test to figure out the virus’s genotype. Based on that, medication is allotted that can work best in your case.