hepatitis C virus (HCV) causes hepatitis C. It is contagious, and a person can transmit it to someone else through blood-to-blood contact. Hepatitis C virus infection (HCV) affects approximately 170–200 million individuals globally. The main complication of chronic hepatitis C is liver damage. This can include cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer. Early diagnosis can prevent liver damage. Left untreated, hepatitis C can be fatal.
Hepatitis C infections can be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-lasting). When a person has acute hepatitis, symptoms can last for 6 months.
An acute infection becomes chronic if the body cannot clear the virus. This is common — acute infections become chronic in more than 50% of cases.
Diagnosis and Tests
⇢ First, the doctor will perform a simple blood test to look for
hepatitis C antibodies in the blood. A positive test means that the person has had exposure to the virus, but does not necessarily prove ongoing infection.
⇢ If the antibody test is positive, the person may then have a second blood test called a
hepatitis C RNA test. This will check whether the virus is still present in the blood.
⇢ A third blood test — called a
genotype test — can work out which type of hepatitis C virus is present, as there are at least six types.
If the person has had hepatitis C for a long time, a doctor may recommend further tests to look for liver damage, measure the severity of any existing damage, and rule out other causes of damage.
These tests usually involve blood tests and ultrasound scans. Doctors only use a liver biopsy — which involves taking a small sample of liver tissue — when the other tests do not provide enough information.
Hepatitis C Treatment
There are several
direct-acting antiviral (DAA) treatments available to treat hepatitis C. While some treat specific types (genotypes) of the virus, there are some that treat all genotypes. Treatment typically involves taking the medication by mouth for about 8 to 12 weeks, although it can be longer in some cases. Before DAAs became available, the treatment for chronic hepatitis C was lengthy and uncomfortable, with less than ideal cure rates. Now, the cure rates are over 90%. Your infection is considered cured if you have no detectable HCV in your blood 12 weeks after completing treatment. These medications work by targeting specific steps in the HCV life cycle to disrupt the reproduction of viral cells.
DAAs to treat hepatitis C include:
The choice of medication and duration of treatment depends on the genotype of the virus. It is important to note that a person can get hepatitis C more than once. After successful treatment, the person should take steps to prevent another infection.
Preventing Hepatitis C
Obesity, smoking, diabetes, and alcohol consumption can accelerate the rate of liver scarring. It is important that all individuals with hepatitis C maintain good health.
Small changes can make a difference! This involves:
✔️ Drink 4 to 8 glasses of water every day.
✔️ Eat as well as you can. Try to eat lots of fruit and vegetables.
✔️ Eat less sugar and salt.
✔️ Try to get at least 7 hours of sleep.
✔️ Try to do some exercise every day, such as gentle stretching, walking or swimming.
✔️ Try activities that relax you, such as meditation or deep breathing.
✔️ Spend time with your friends and family.
✔️ Try to drink less alcohol or no alcohol. Alcohol can damage your liver.
✔️ Try to smoke less or quit smoking. You may want to ask your doctor or nurse for advice about quitting smoking.
✔️ If you use street drugs, use new equipment every time so you do not get other infections.
How to Prevent Transmitting HCV
It is recommended that people who have hepatitis C
use the following methods to prevent transmitting it to others:
✔️ avoiding sharing drug needles or other drug materials.
✔️ wearing gloves when touching another person’s open sores.
✔️ telling any tattooists or piercer that you have hepatitis C and making sure they use sterile tools and unopened ink.
✔️ avoiding sharing items such as toothbrushes, razors, and nail clippers.