Hepatitis C is caused by a virus that causes infection and inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis C is one of the most common diseases worldwide. Hepatitis C is a short-term illness for some, but it develops into a chronic illness for more than 50% of the infected patients.
Although Hepatitis C is a curable disease, there is no vaccine to prevent the infection. The best way to prevent this infection is to avoid high-risk behaviors for getting infected with Hepatitis C. Understanding how the virus is spread is key to avoiding Hepatitis C infections. Getting tested regularly for this infection is also essential in protecting you from developing a short-term or a long-term illness.
Although without a vaccine, Hepatitis C is by no means a lethal disease – at least not anymore. With timely diagnosis and proper treatment at the right time, Hepatitis C can be dealt with effectively.
VACCINE FOR HEPATITIS C
To understand why Hepatitis C does not have a vaccine, understanding how a vaccine works is important.
A vaccine works by triggering an immune response in the host similar to that triggered by the actual pathogen. A vaccine is a dead or weakened version of the same pathogen that causes the disease in the first place. When these weakened or dead versions of the pathogen are introduced in the body, our immune system identifies the antigens, the surface markers on the pathogen's surface, and develops antibodies against these antigens. Since this is the first time this antigen is exposed to the body, and also because the triggering factor – the pathogen in the vaccine – is either weak or dead, the resulting immune response is enough to develop antibodies but not enough to cause full-blown symptoms as caused in the actual pathology.
Now that you know how vaccines work, it is time to answer the question: "Why isn't there a vaccine for Hepatitis C?" As mentioned before, a vaccine works by introducing a surface antigen of a pathogen to our immune system. However, it is only effective when the surface antigen of the pathogen itself is not too variable. What this means is that pathogens can often have multiple varying surface antigens. Some pathogens even undergo mutations to change their surface antigens so that the immune system cannot recognize them anymore. This constant variability of surface antigens is one of the biggest reasons some diseases cannot be prevented with vaccines.
The Hepatitis C virus is one of the most variable viruses that exist. It has at least seven different identified genotypes and at least 60 different subtypes. This variability makes it extremely hard for researchers to develop an effective vaccine. It would take a lot of time, effort, and capital to individually identify and isolate these subtypes and run a trial on each of them with multiple vaccinations.
Another reason why Hepatitis C does not have an effective vaccine is that there are multiple restraints in the research process. Vaccine trials are usually run in animals before the human phase of testing is begun. However, animal testing is only successful when the tests are simulated as best as possible to the actual situation that would happen if a human was infected. For this model to be successful, the disease has to run a similar course in that animal as it would run in a human, and the immune response of that animal has to be very similar to that of a human. As you can imagine, these scenarios are very tricky to get by, and that is why we don't have a proper vaccine for Hepatitis C as of yet.
However, research into preparing a vaccine for Hepatitis C has been for more than 30 years now. Although there hasn't been a definite result, the research is promising, and it seems like a vaccine for Hepatitis C could be on the charts for the near future.
HOW TO PREVENT HEPATITIS C INFECTIONS?
Since there is no vaccine for Hepatitis C, taking measures to prevent an infection in the first place is your best bet. There are plenty of ways to prevent an infection with Hepatitis C. Since it is a blood-borne virus, it is best to avoid coming into contact with infected blood or blood in general regardless of whether you know it is infected or not. Here are some ways that Hepatitis C is spread. Avoiding these contacts is your best bet to prevent an infection with this virus.
Sharing injecting needles – Sharing needles with others is one of the most common ways Hepatitis C is spread. Moreover, other equipment involved in taking illicit drugs can also cause the spread of this virus, such as straws or funnels. Micro-droplets of blood can get mixed with this equipment or the drugs themselves and transmit the virus. You should get help from a rehabilitation center if you use illicit drugs as soon as possible. If you can't do that, make sure not to share your equipment with others.
Indulging in unprotected sexual intercourse – unprotected sexual intercourse, especially anal sex, is also a common way to acquire the Hepatitis C virus. Having sex with multiple sexual partners is also a risk factor. Using a condom to protect yourself from the virus during intercourse is a sure way to prevent an HCV infection.
Sharing personal hygiene products – shavers, trimmers, toothbrushes, tweezers, and even floss can have gross or microscopic blood on them. Sharing these items can transmit the virus very quickly because they usually have microscopic blood droplets on them. Therefore, you must never share your personal hygiene products with anyone.
Getting tattoos and piercings – most tattoo and piercing parlors do not disinfect their equipment. Getting a tattoo or a piercing from shady places that do not have proper licenses or meet standard regulations can result in an HCV infection. Ensure that you get these services done from regulated places that regularly sterilize their equipment to minimize your risk of getting this infection.
Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers are constantly exposed to blood. Safely disposing of any contaminated samples and carefully handling blood products can help minimize the risk of infection to an absolute minimum. Taking care while injecting patients with medication is also important. Needle injuries can readily transmit infections, including HCV infections.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF HEPATITIS C?
Hepatitis C is a curable disease. The prognosis is excellent with early diagnosis and prompt treatment. However, any delay in treatment or diagnosis can prolong the acute phase or worsen in the chronic phase. Therefore, it is important to detect any symptoms that appear early on in the course of this disease.
Symptoms of Hepatitis C include:
- Yellowing of sclera and mucous membranes is also called Jaundice.
- Dark-colored urine due to bilirubin in the urine
- Abdominal pain
- Fatigue and anorexia
- Nausea, diarrhea, constipation
- Fever or a burning sensation
- Tremors, abdominal distention, and bruising in the liver failure stage of the disease
It is important to understand that not all of these symptoms appear sequentially in the disease. Most of the symptoms may not even appear at all. In fact, the acute phase of the disease may be without any symptom at all and might just be an incidental finding on routine blood or urine tests. You should consult a doctor at the earliest if you develop any of the aforementioned signs and symptoms.
HOW EFFECTIVE IS THE TREATMENT FOR HEPATITIS C?
Hepatitis C used to be extremely difficult to treat in the past. Many people would develop chronic infections with the virus, and others would develop liver failure and die due to the complications. However, with newer treatment, Hepatitis C is not just effectively treatable but also curable.
Anti-retroviral drugs are now used to treat Hepatitis C infections. These drugs are also called direct-acting anti-retroviral drugs, or DAAs, because they directly affect the virus's genetic makeup. DAAs are extremely effective in treating Hepatitis infections to the point where prompt treatment eliminates the virus from your body.
Treatment with direct-acting anti-retroviral drugs takes about 8 to 12 weeks to complete, and the prognosis is very good. However, your doctor may have to employ several drugs to eliminate the infection from your body effectively. The reason behind using multiple drugs to treat Hepatitis C infections is the variable genotype of this virus. Also important to note is that treatment for Hepatitis C infection can get very expensive, especially with the newer DAA class of drugs. However, many health insurances in the United States cover the expenses for this treatment. Nevertheless, taking effective measures to prevent the infection in the first place is inevitably more useful and also cost-effective.