Hepatitis C is a virus that can cause serious inflammation of the liver and, if left untreated, potentially life-threatening liver damage and other conditions.
Hepatitis C spreads through the blood and rarely through sexual contact. In the U.S., the most common methods of infection with hepatitis C include sharing needles, syringes and paraphernalia while using injectable street drugs like heroin, or through receipt of blood transfusions prior to 1992, when hepatitis C testing was first introduced.
There is currently no vaccine to prevent the spread of hepatitis C virus. There are, however, medicines called direct-acting antivirals (DAA) that can cure hepatitis C in most cases.
For some people, hepatitis C can be a short-term (or “acute”) infection that clears from the body after a few months. However, for most who are infected with hepatitis C, it becomes a chronic condition that can persist for years. According to the National Institutes of Health, between 75-85% of those who contract the hepatitis C virus will develop chronic hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C often causes few or no noticeable symptoms, so many people with chronic hepatitis C don’t know they are infected, even if they’ve had it for years or decades. Without diagnosis and treatment, chronic hepatitis C can lead to serious liver damage and life-threatening conditions, including cirrhosis (advanced scarring of the liver due to tissue damage), liver cancer and liver failure. The only treatment for liver failure is a liver transplant.
Why Hoag for Hepatitis C Treatment in Orange County?
For years, chronic hepatitis C was a condition whose dangerous progression could only be slowed. But since the mid-2010s, direct-acting antiviral medications have allowed doctors to help many patients be free of the disease forever.
Facing a hepatitis C diagnosis in Orange County, or worry you may have been exposed? With chronic hepatitis C, the longer you wait for diagnosis, the worse the damage could be. So, don’t gamble with your health. Seek the treatment you can trust, at Hoag Digestive Health Institute.
Hoag’s comprehensive Liver Program offers the most advanced care in Orange County for conditions involving the liver, including Hepatitis A, B and C. We’re working every day toward a future without viral hepatitis, and we have the team, tools and techniques to effectively treat these challenging diseases today.
Symptoms & Causes of Hepatitis C
The symptoms of hepatitis C are different for every patient, and may mimic those of other conditions. Some people with acute or chronic hepatitis C may have no symptoms at all. According to the CDC, for those who do develop symptoms, the average time from being exposed and the onset of symptoms is 2 to 12 weeks.
Symptoms of Acute Hepatitis C Infection
- Unexplained nausea and vomiting
- Jaundice, which is yellowing of the skin and eyes
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach pain
- Unexplained fatigue
- Unexplained fever
- Pale or clay-colored bowel movements and/or dark urine
- Pain in the joints
Symptoms of Long-Term Chronic Hepatitis C Infection
Some people with chronic hepatitis C develop medical conditions that impact not only the liver but also other parts of the body. Some of the conditions that can result from long-term, chronic HCV include:
- Liver cancer
- Liver failure
- Diabetes mellitus
- Essential mixed cryoglobulinemia
- Porphyria cutanea tarda
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
There are a number of factors that can increase your risk of contracting hepatitis C or having the disease without knowing it. Risk factors include:
- Sharing needles and paraphernalia with others while using injectable street drugs, even if it was many years ago
- Being born to a mother infected with hepatitis C
- Having unprotected sex, with the highest risk for men who have sex with men
- Sharing razors, toothbrushes and other personal care items that may become contaminated with blood
- Getting tattooed or a piercing by an unlicensed person, or a shop that doesn’t practice strict protocols to prevent bloodborne cross-contamination between clients
- Receiving blood-clotting factor concentrates produced prior to 1987, before the supply was routinely screened for HCV
- Receiving blood components or a transfusion prior to July 1992
- Receiving an organ transplant prior to July 1992
- Working in a health care or law enforcement setting where you might have accidental needle stick injuries
Diagnosis and Tests for Hepatitis C
The Centers for Disease Control recommends hepatitis C screening for all adults in the U.S. at least once in their lifetime, and for women during every pregnancy. Those who engage in intravenous use of illegal drugs should seek screening more often.
There are several diagnostic screening tests that can reliably detect the presence of hepatitis C or the antibodies the immune system produces to fight an HCV infection. These tests include:
- Qualitative nucleic acid tests to detect the presence and levels of hepatitis C RNA, a genetic material found in the virus
- Screening tests for HCV antibodies, including:
- enzyme immunoassay (EIA)
- enhanced chemiluminescence immunoassay (CLIA)
- Chemiluminescence microparticle immunoassay (CMIA)
- Microparticle immunoassay (MEIA)
- Electrochemiluminescence immunoassay (ECLIA)
- Immunochromatographic assay
Management and Treatment for Hepatitis C
Once a diagnosis of hepatitis C has been confirmed, you’ll likely be evaluated for liver damage, since chronic hepatitis C can often cause serious liver damage with few or no symptoms.
Since around 2015, the main treatment for hepatitis C infection has been direct-acting antiviral (DAA) medications, which are taken by mouth for between 8-12 weeks. According to the CDC, more than 90 percent of those infected with hepatitis C can be cured through these medications.
Although a case of chronic hepatitis C can be cured by treatment with DAAs, the damage to the liver caused by the disease, including any scarring, is usually permanent. Even after hepatitis C is cured, there can still be a risk of liver cancer in the future. Some patients require routing screening to monitor for this risk.
Prevention of Hepatitis C
While most cases of hepatitis C can be cured through treatment with direct-acting antiviral medications, there is currently no vaccine to prevent a person from contracting the disease. There are, however, a few ways to reduce your risk of contracting hepatitis C. These include:
- Avoid using injectable street drugs, and if you do, never share needles, syringes and other paraphernalia
- Avoid direct exposure to blood or blood products
- While hepatitis C infection during sex is rare, wear a condom during sexual activity, especially if you engage in male/male sex
- Don’t share personal care items like razors and toothbrushes with others
- If you receive a tattoo or piercing, make sure it’s from a licensed shop that practices good sterilization protocols
- Take precautions while working in any job that might put you at risk of accidental needle sticks, including on-the-job exposure in law enforcement, health care, addiction outreach, etc.