Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. This inflammation can result from direct stress to the liver by several causes, including pathogens – like viruses. Five such viruses exist that can cause acute and chronic hepatitis in humans. All of these viruses spread and cause disease differently. Generally, Hepatitis A and E cause only acute illness. Other viruses, such as Hepatitis B, C, and D, can cause acute and chronic hepatitis. Hepatitis C, in particular, is responsible for severe liver disease in millions of people around the globe.
Hepatitis is extremely common in many parts of the world. Statistics indicate that almost 2.3 billion people worldwide are affected by one of the five hepatitis-causing viruses. In the United States alone, an estimated 3 to 5 million people are suspected of living with viral hepatitis. According to this report by the Department of Health and Human Services, half of the people with hepatitis aren't aware of their ailment. In the diagnosed population, Hep B and C account for most of the cases.
Hepatitis C is the most common type of viral hepatitis in the United States. 2.4 million people in the United States have either acute or chronic hepatitis C. A blood-borne virus causes the disease, and it is transmitted via unprotected sexual contact (vaginal and anal intercourse), unhygienic injection, and blood transfusion practices. Sharing needles in drug addicts is a common cause of this disease. Hepatitis C virus infects the liver and causes inflammation and scarring, also known as liver cirrhosis. Cirrhosis of the liver eventually leads to full-blown liver failure. The severity of the illness caused by Hepatitis C ranges from mild to a full-blown severe liver failure scenario. Hep C can also lead to liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma.
Patients with Hepatitis C have impaired liver function. Thus, most of their symptoms are indicative of that. For example, due to a lack of clotting factors that the liver generally makes, these patients tend to bleed easily and frequently develop bruises. Yellow discoloration of the eyes and skin is also seen, indicating jaundice. Sometimes, due to the increased venous pressure in the liver, these patients develop distended abdomens. This is a fluid buildup in the abdomen, known as ascites, and is a common sign of hepatitis. Here are the symptoms experienced by someone living with Hepatitis C:
- An increased bleeding tendency
- Bruising all over the body
- Fatigue and irritability
- Decreased appetite
- Itchy skin
- Dark-colored urine
Despite the fact that hepatitis C is a devastating disease, modern medicine has made it possible to treat the condition significantly better than in the past. The number of cases reported every year has also decreased in the developed countries due to better-managed health care practices, like proper hospital waste and needle disposals. The disease, however, continues to be a leading cause of death in the developing world.
There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C as of yet. However, medical management helps eliminate the disease quite well. Previously, patients living with Hepatitis C needed a combination of oral medicine and weekly injections to combat the disease. Newer medical protocols have made it possible to manage the condition with just oral therapy for 2 to 3 months. The disease, although devastating, can now be managed much more efficiently and safely than ever before.