Hepatitis C is a viral infective condition of the liver that is prevalent around the world. Developing countries have higher cases of Hepatitis C due to the lack of preventive practices.
According to WHO, approximately 70 million people worldwide have a chronic Hepatitis C infection. More than 2 million of these people reside in the United States. Apart from chronic infections, acute Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) infections are also very common around the globe. More than 50,000 cases of acute Hepatitis C are seen every year in the United States alone. This high prevalence of HCV infections in the United States accounts for most end-stage liver disease and subsequent liver transplant cases.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne disease. It is transmitted when infected blood comes into contact with other people. Small amounts of infected blood are enough to cause an infection, which is why the prevalence of this infection is so high. Moreover, many people who have HCV infections remain asymptomatic and, thus, never get diagnosed – contributing more to the prevalence of Hepatitis C worldwide.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT HEPATITIS C
Hepatitis C, as mentioned before, is caused by a virus that inflames the liver. The disease has both an acute stage and a chronic stage. Most people who develop the disease remain symptom-free for a long time before experiencing any symptoms that require medical attention. The late appearance of symptoms is one of the reasons why Hepatitis C cases are continuously on the rise, they rarely get diagnosed and treated in the early stages.
Most people who develop Hepatitis C carry the chronic infection with them for the rest of their lives. The reason for this life-long affinity is that not everyone who gets infected with Hep C seeks medical help. The symptom-free period of the disease also contributes to its spread since people are unaware of their Hep C status and do not take measures to prevent its spread.
Hepatitis C is a deadly disease. According to WHO, about 400,000 people die from Hepatitis C-related end-stage liver disease every year. New cases of Hepatitis C have been on the rise in the United States since 2010. A most common contributor to these cases is IV drug abuse. Although blood transfusion-related HCV infections have decreased significantly, they still contribute to the annual cases of Hep C reported in the United States.
HOW IS HCV TRANSMITTED FROM PERSON TO PERSON?
Hepatitis C is spread from person to person by various methods.
The most common contributor to the spread of HCV internationally is IV drug abuse. Injecting needles, when shared, puts people at a higher risk of acquiring Hepatitis C. Other drug use equipment, such as equipment for cocaine-snorting, also contributes to the HCV spread.
Physicians working in a hospital setting are also included in the high-risk group for HCV infection. This is because healthcare workers often come across infected blood in a hospital setting. Aside from healthcare workers, patients in a hospital setting are also not entirely safe from acquiring Hepatitis C. More specifically, dialysis patients who repeatedly use a catheter may acquire HCV infection in a hospital setting.
Other factors contributing to the spread of Hepatitis C include:
- Sharing personal hygiene products
- Being infected with HIV or other STDs
- Having unsafe sexual practices with multiple sexual partners
SOME PREVENTIVE MEASURES TO MINIMIZE THE SPREAD OF HEPATITIS C
Prevention at all levels is extremely important in reducing the spread of HCV. Most of the preventive measures listed below are effective in minimizing the spread of Hepatitis C.
Healthcare professionals need to take extra care while handling blood specimens. Any equipment used for interventional procedures needs to be sterilized before being used again. No disposable equipment should be reused on more than one patient.
If you are an IV drug abuser, you should stop sharing your injecting needles with other people. You should also stop using injecting needles used by other people. Seeking help with the cessation of illicit drug use provides maximum protection when combined with preventive methods to minimize the spread of HCV.
Make sure that you never get a tattoo or a piercing from an unregistered tattoo or piercing parlor. Unregistered settlements are more likely to skip important safety practices such as sterilizing equipment after every use.
If you have sex with multiple partners, it is a good idea to use condoms. If you live with a partner who has Hepatitis C, make sure that you take extra precautions and that your partner completes their full course of HCV treatment. If you are HCV positive, make sure to complete your course of treatment so that the spread of HCV is minimized as much as possible. Getting tested regularly for Hepatitis C and other STDs is always a good idea.
Consult your healthcare provider at the earliest if you think you have been exposed to any of the risk factors for HCV infection mentioned above.
IS HEPATITIS C CURABLE?
Thanks to modern direct-acting antiviral therapy, Hepatitis C is now a fully curable disease. Previously, interferons and ribavirin were used to treat HCV infections. However, these drugs did not have an effective success rate against Hepatitis C.
Direct-acting antiviral therapy, or DAA therapy for short, has a more than 95% success rate against Hepatitis C. These drugs go directly against the virus in your bloodstream, lowering its number down to a minimum. The number of virus particles in your blood is known as your viral load. The goal of treatment with DAAs is to keep an undetectable viral load so that you can live symptom-free and without the risk of infecting others.
Treatment is continued for a minimum of 8 weeks and can be extended up to 24 weeks, depending on your health evaluation. If a person's viral load remains undetectable for a minimum of 12 weeks after the cessation of treatment, Hepatitis C is said to be cured. This is called the sustained virologic response.