Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Anyone who is at risk, including persons born in 1945-1965, former drug users, a regular recipient of blood transfusions before 1987, those affected with HIV or liver disease, should get tested to determine the best course of action for this serious viral infection.1

The acute form of hepatitis C is an infection that lasts anywhere from six weeks to six months. This form of the disease is temporary and requires only supportive treatment like rest and proper diet to clear up on its own. If a person recovers from acute hepatitis, their body now has the antibodies and another infection will likely never occur again. However, if a person does not recover from the acute infection, it then becomes a chronic case of hepatitis C, a far more serious condition that requires testing for a diagnosis and a defined treatment plan.

Testing for hepatitis C includes a series of blood tests. The first test looks for any present hepatitis C antibodies. If this test comes back positive, there is an RNA blood test to confirm infection. From that point, a physician will follow up to determine treatment is the next step in the process. Chronic hepatitis C can be a lifelong infection with serious health complications, so creating a treatment plan and visiting regularly with your doctor is key to keeping your health on track. Hepatitis C is the number one cause of liver cancer in the United States. A majority of cases, especially those left untreated, lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer, liver disease, and more.2

Hepatitis C Treatment

The treatments for hepatitis C range from a variety of drug therapies to invasive surgery and transplant, depending on the severity of the progression of the disease. Unlike hepatitis A and B, there is not a vaccine available to prevent the viral infection from becoming chronic.

Treatment for Acute Hepatitis C
Acute hepatitis C is an infection that can last anywhere from six weeks to six months. It can present with symptoms or without. In fact, 70-80% of acute hepatitis C cases do not present with any symptoms and those that do are mild and flu-like. Acute hepatitis can be cured if 6 months after treatment, the viral load is undetectable. If the virus does not clear up on its own, it is likely to become a chronic case, causing the liver to remain inflamed for an extended period of time or in some cases, for the rest of the patient’s life.2

Treatment for Chronic Hepatitis C
If a patient doesn’t recover from an infection of hepatitis C, it becomes a chronic, long-lasting infection of the liver. Also unlike hepatitis B, there is no vaccine to protect against its’ spread. There are many different ways to manage the disease. For example, there are many drug therapies approved by the FDA that help keep symptoms under control, including ribavirin, interferon, teleprevir and more.6 All patients positive with HCV should have their liver closely monitored by a physician and should avoid alcohol in an effort to slow down liver damage. Chronic hepatitis C is considered cured if 6 months after treatment, the viral load is undetectable. Hepatitis B and C patients are also at risk for being co-infected with HIV, another consideration to take when putting together a treatment plan.2

Hepatitis C Overview

Hepatitis C is one of 5 hepatitis virus variations, the others including A,B,D and E. It is a blood-borne illness most commonly transmitted by sharing of drug paraphernalia. To quickly review the difference between the virus strains, B and C are most commonly linked with sexual transmission and drug use. Hepatitis D is less common and the population most likely to contract is anyone diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B. It is the most common bloodborne disease in the US, with over 2.7 million cases across the country.1

The Baby Boomer generation (people born 1945-1965) is highly recommended for hepatitis C testing. This population has seen a spike in infections that is comparable to the typical rate of STD infections in this particular age group. Evidence suggests that the significant increase in regulation of blood transfusions after the late 80s and early 90s can account for the spike in cases of the blood-borne illness in this generation.3

According to the World Health Organization, a large percentage of those diagnosed with chronic Hepatitis C will develop liver disease or cirrhosis.2 As the number one cause of liver cancer in the United States, often the only cure for hepatitis C is a liver transplant.

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Hepatitis C Symptoms

Acute hepatitis C is an infection that presents with flu-like symptoms. There is an incubation period for hepatitis where symptoms do not occur in between the first six weeks or six months of being infected.

Common symptoms of acute hepatitis C include4:

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle soreness
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Decreased appetite
  • Joint pain
  • Dark yellow urine
  • Jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin)

If you experience a prolonged high- or low-grade fever, flu-like symptoms that are at any point unmanageable by supportive means or if you think you’ve been exposed to the hepatitis C virus.

If you ever experience severe, acute abdominal or pelvic pain or an onset of sudden bleeding, do not wait to call your physician, immediately call 911 or go to the ER or an urgent care facility.

1 CDC – 2015 Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines – Emerging Issues – Hepatitis C
2 CDC – Hepatitis C FAQs for the Public
3 Hepatitis C Testing for Anyone Born During 1945-1965: New CDC Recommendations
4 American Liver Foundation – What are the Signs & Symptoms of Hepatitis C?
5 CDC Vital Signs – Hepatitis C Testing Baby Boomers Saves Lives
6 FDA – Hepatitis B and C Treatments

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