Hepatitis C (Hep C) is a blood borne liver infection caused by the Hep C Virus (HCV). The most common way of transmitting HVC is through sharing needles with an infected person; being bloodborne, HVC an also be transmitted via birth, healthcare exposure to needles, sex with an infected person, unregulated tattoos or body piercings, and sharing of any items that could of gotten in contact with infected blood. While this infection can be short term, chronic Hep C affects over half of those infected with HCV. If left untreated Hep C can cause life-threatening health concerns such as cirrhosis and liver cancer. In recent years chronic Hep C is cured with oral medication taken every day for two to six months, however liver damage may warrant a liver replacement. The main concern is the lack of symptoms, about half of those infected with HCV are unaware as symptoms can take decades to appear. To stay safe, it is recommended that those 18-79 years old be screened at least once in their lifetime, more often for those at higher risk. Individuals who are at higher risk for Hep C are those with HIV, those who have had organ transplants, healthcare works, children borne to HCV parents, and pregnant women. Places in Wichita, including Positive Directions provide testing for infections including HCV. Those with higher risk factors should be tested for HCV on a regular basis. Symptoms of Hep C appear because there is substantial damage to the liver, this can take years and is why most infected go unnoticed. Signs and symptoms to watch for are bleeding or busing easily, fatigue, loss of appetite, yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes (jaundice), dark colored urine, itchy skin, Fluid buildup in abdomen (ascites), swelling in your legs, weight loss, confusion, or spiderlike blood vessels on your skin (spider angiomas). To test for liver damage doctors may order an MRE, Transient elastography, liver biopsy, or a blood test.
Magnetic resonance elastography (MRE): through the combination of magnetic resonance imaging with soundwave patterns formed by bounding off the liver to create a visual map showing gradients of stiffness through the liver. Stiff liver indicates the presence of scar tissue.
Transient elastography: Vibrations are used and the speed of how the vibrations expressed is used to determine the stiffness of the liver.
Liver biopsy: though the use of ultrasound guidance a thin needle is inserted through the abdominal wall to retrain a sample of liver tissue for lab testing.
Blood test: blood is drawn and sent to lab to indicate the extent of fibrosis (scarring) in the liver.
As stated prior, Hep C can be treated with antiviral oral medication, intended to limit the amount of Hep C in your body to an undetectable amount for at least 12 weeks post treatment. In recent years researchers have developed a new ‘direct-acting’ antiviral medication. Use of this new antiviral, sometime in combination with others, has led to less side effects and shorter recovery periods. It is important to discuss treatment options with a specialist as research is continually going and the field of medicine is changing.
If serious complications have arisen due to uncontrolled Hep C, liver transplant may be an option. The surgeon will remove the damaged liver and replaces it with a healthy donor. Alone transplants do not cure Hep C and further treatment is required. A transplant will fit a working liver into the body but has no direct action of removing Hep C from the blood stream.
At this point in time there are no vaccines for Hep C, though both Hep A and B have vaccines, these are separate viruses, however they too cause liver damage.
Mayo Clinic. (2020, March 20). Hepatitis c. Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hepatitis-c/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20354284
CDC.gov. (2020, August 07). Hepatitis c questions and answers for health professionals. Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/hcvfaq.htm#section3
Mayo Clinic. (2020, March 20). Hepatitis c. Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hepatitis-c/symptoms-causes/syc-20354278
Liver Foundation, M. (2020, March 10). Hepatitis c symptoms. diagnosing hepatitis c – alf. Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://liverfoundation.org/for-patients/about-the-liver/diseases-of-the-liver/hepatitis-c/diagnosing-hepatitis-c/#:~:text=The%20Hepatitis%20C%20virus%20is,will%20stay%20virus%20free%20indefinitely.