Hepatitis C is that viral hepatitis which, unlike other viral hepatitis, leads to inflammation of the liver and does damage to the liver cells. The hepatitis C virus usually produces a mild illness.
There are genetically different strains of the hepatitis C virus which lead on to influence the way the virus multiplies itself in the body, during the course of the disease and the response of the disease to treatment. Right now there no vaccine that is able against hepatitis C.
Transmission of the virus
This virus transmits because of close contact with the blood of a person who has been infected. Blood transfusions are the ones that are responsible for hepatitis C infection.
This happens because of the overuse of drugs. It can spread through sexual intercourse as well. This is much smaller when compared to hepatitis B or AIDS.
In many cases of hepatitis C, it is not possible to trace the source of the infection either.
Symptoms of hepatitis C symptoms
Of a few people who have been infected with the hepatitis C virus suffer from short term hepatitis C. The Symptoms of acute hepatitis C are having pain in the joints, loss of appetite, and feeling of tired, fever, stomach pain and jaundice. Short term hepatitis C is generally, mild illness from which most of the patients recover within four to eight weeks.
Some people who have been infected with the hepatitis C virus rid their bodies eventually of it completely.
But, there are 75% of the virus that still remains in the body. Just because some people who have been infected with the hepatitis C virus would not develop the short-term illness, it might be like that they may not be aware that they are long-term carriers.
But, still, do they pass the virus on to other people. There are around 50,000 long-term carriers of the hepatitis C virus in India but the actual number might be higher because of 50 to 60% of infected people were unaware they have the disease.
Symptoms of Long-term hepatitis C
People who have been suffering from hepatitis C for a long time are at risk of long-term liver diseases, which result in causing progressive damage to the liver.
Symptoms of long-term liver diseases may include mild fatigue, feeling unwell, and alcohol intolerance.
Serious complications of long-term liver disease, like fibrosis and scarring of the liver, would not become visible from 20 to 50 years after infection with the virus.
People who are having cirrhosis might go on to develop liver failure or for worse liver cancer.
People who have long-term liver disease are as well at risk of developing symptoms like pains in the joint, weakness in the muscles and skin irritations.
The kidneys and brain will also be affected. This disease progress faster in case of male long term carriers, those who are over the age of 40, and those who drink alcohol.
Treatment of Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C has to be treated with anti-viral medications and the only objective is to have no hepatitis C virus detected inside the body after 12-weeks of treatment.
The type of anti-viral medication used will depend on:
Hepatitis C genotype
The degree of liver damage
Previous treatment for hepatitis C.
Until recently, treatment for long-term hepatitis C usually involved taking two main medicines:
- Pegylated interferon-a medication given by injection that encourages the immune system to attack the virus
- Ribavirin – an antiviral medication that stops the virus from replicating.
But, newer hepatitis C medications that make treatment more effective are now available in New Zealand.
These newer medications are known as direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) and are taken orally as tablets. Some of these DAAs are given with pegylated interferon and ribavirin but in most cases, they can be taken on their own or in combination with other new medicines.
With the availability of the newer medications, the chances of a cure are much higher. Combinations of medications now have a cure rate of more than 90%.
Side effects of treatment that involves pegylated interferon (flu-like symptoms – headache, fatigue etc) are quite common. The new tablet DAAs, But, have fewer side effects and are generally better tolerated by most people.
As well as treatment with medications, it is important for long term carriers to make healthy lifestyle choices. This includes:
- Maintaining a healthy diet, especially avoiding fatty foods
- Avoiding alcohol
- Avoiding taking any unnecessary medications
- Maintaining a good level of physical fitness
- Having a good social support system.
It is also recommended that long-term hepatitis C carriers are immunized against hepatitis A and hepatitis B as infection with these viruses can accelerate long-term liver disease.
Surgery is sometimes necessary to treat complications of liver disease, and some patients with the advanced liver disease may be candidates for liver transplantation.
Once the patient has significant decompensation of the Liver disease / has End Stage Liver Disease , a Liver Transplant is the only hope of cure.