Facts About Hepatitis C

Introduction

Hepatitis C virus is a contagious, blood borne disease that affects the liver, and causes it to become inflamed and swollen. The liver is the second largest organ in the human body. It performs several important tasks: removes harmful chemicals from the bloodstream, fights infection, is an aid in the digestion of food, and stores nutrients and vitamins as well as energy. A person cannot live without a liver.

There are two forms of Hepatitis C. The initial manifestation is acute Hepatitis C, and occurs within six months of exposure to the virus. Chronic Hepatitis C is the long term illness that occurs as a result of the Hepatitis C virus remaining in the body. Many people with acute Hepatitis C exhibit no symptoms, and some people with chronic Hepatitis C will be largely asymptomatic for as long as 10-30 years. Some people only show symptoms after cirrhosis of the liver has occurred.

There is no treatment for the acute form of Hepatitis C. 75-85% of those thus affected will go on to develop the chronic form. 15-25% of people who contract acute Hepatitis C will recover completely and without treatment. Medical science does not fully understand why these people recover while others go on to develop chronic Hepatitis C. 25% of people who with chronic Hepatitis C will develop cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, and 10% will develop liver cancer. An estimated 4 million people in the United States have Hepatitis C today, and approximately half of them don't know they are infected. 8,000 to 10,000 people die annually from complications related to Hepatitis C.

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Cause and Spread

Hepatitis C is caused by the Hepatitis C virus, or HCV. It is spread from person to person via blood. Those who may be infected or who are at risk for infection include current or past injection drug users, anyone who received a blood transfusion prior to 1992, or blood products for clotting produced prior to 1987, hemodialysis patients, health care workers who may have improperly handled blood or been stuck with an infected needle, HIV infected persons, babies born to mothers with Hepatitis C, anyone who has ever been in or worked in a prison, and anyone who received a tattoo or piercing where sterile practices were not followed. Less commonly, Hepatitis C can be spread through sex and through the sharing of personal items, such as a razor or toothbrush, that may have had contact with an infected person's blood. Hepatitis C is not spread by mosquitoes, eating utensils, breast feeding, kissing, coughing, sneezing or by food or water.

Symptoms

Symptoms for the acute and chronic form are largely the same, although they may be so mild in the acute form that they pass unnoticed. Symptoms include pain in the upper right abdominal area, tiredness and fatigue, abdominal and/or ankle swelling, dark urine, fever, itching, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and/or the whites of the eyes), loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, pale or clay colored stools, and (in the chronic form only), bleeding from the esophagus or stomach.

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Diagnosis

The FDA just recently approved OraSure Technologies OraQuick HCV Rapid Antibody test which detects the presence of HCV antibodies in just twenty minutes with a simple finger stick text. Traditionally, Hepatitis C is diagnosed with an EIA assay that detects the Hepatitis C antibodies. If that test is positive, a Hepatitis C RNA assay will measure the amount of virus, or viral load, in the blood. A Hepatitis C genotype test will determine what genotype infection a person has; most Americans have the genotype 1 infection, which unfortunately is the hardest to treat. Various other tests, including a liver biopsy might be performed in an attempt to establish the progression of the disease and the amount of damage done to the liver.

Prognosis

The hope of removing HCV from the blood with treatment is as high as 90% for some people. Those who do not receive a "cure" often do reduce their potential risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer through the reduction of their viral load. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to tolerate the treatment. Hepatitis C is one of the most common causes of chronic liver disease. Sometimes the last resort for a person with a diseased liver is a transplant, and even then, the Hepatitis C generally returns.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to remove the virus from the blood, thus reducing the risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer. The most common medical treatment today is a combination of pegylated interferon (which is a synthetic version of the interferon the body produces to fight infection) and ribavirin. The treatment typically consists of weekly interferon injections and twice daily capsules of ribavirin, for a 24-48 weeks. This treatment can have severe side effects: anemia, depression, fatigue, fever, flu-like symptoms, headache, irritability, loss of appetite, low white blood cell count, nausea, vomiting and thinning hair. In clinical trials, it is about 50% effective, however in real life, doctors find that less than a third of patients have a sustained response once treatment has ended, and most have significant side effects. There are two new drugs on the horizon, Merck's Boceprevir and Vertex's Telaprevir, which are scheduled for approval process review by the FDA's Antiviral Drug Advisory Committee at the end of April, 2011. Clinical trial data suggests that when one of these drugs is added to the interferon/ribavirin regimen, the likelihood of a sustained virologic resonse is significantly increased in both new patients, and patients who previously did not respond to the treatment. The interferon and ribavirin must still be taken for the first three months of treatment, but this is a shorter length of treatment than when interferon and ribavirin are used alone. Another drug that has shown promise in treating Hepatitis C is the antiviral drug Amantadinel. Alternative treatments include Ozone therapy, which has been quite successful in reversing Hepatitis C, sometimes after just a few sessions, and various dietary and supplementation regimens. The most often mentioned and highly touted herbal supplement in alternative literature is milk thistle.

Conclusion

Persons with Hepatitis C should not drink alcohol. Even a small amount of alcohol exacerbates the inflammation and progression of the disease. Affected individuals should also exercise caution in taking both legal and illegal drugs, prescription and over the counter, as most drugs are metabolized in the liver. Before taking drugs or even supplements, persons with Hepatitis C should consult with their health care providers.

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Comments 15 comments

knottlena profile image

knottlena 4 years ago from Connecticut

Great informative hub. Certainly nothing that I wish to experience.


lisa.bom 4 years ago

I have a family member whom has hep C. She is ashamed and doesn't want to tell anyone. I only know because she let it slip in a conversation. Thank you for bringing more attention to this. The more people that know, the less it will be taboo.


Brett Winn profile image

Brett Winn 4 years ago from US Author

lisa ... I have a dear friend with Hep C.He had it 25 years before learning he had it, and my heart goes out to him so much ... thank you for stopping by and supporting my hub!


dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 4 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

Wow! Thanks for sharing.


Brett Winn profile image

Brett Winn 4 years ago from US Author

Dallas, thank you so much for taking the time to read it and to comment! I'm glad you found it worthwhile!


mary615 profile image

mary615 4 years ago from Florida

I have a 16 yr. old Grandson that we just found out tested pos. for Hep C. His mother had Hep C when he was born. He is to see a Dr. who specilizes in Hep. C soon. I am so concerned about him. Thanks for this info.


Brett Winn profile image

Brett Winn 4 years ago from US Author

Mary, you are so welcome! I hope your grandson does well ... if he adopts a healthful lifestyle, chances are there will be a cure within his lifetime ....


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

This is a very useful hub, Brett. Thanks for the information!


Farooq 4 years ago

I have hcv for last two years. tried interferon but dr stopped just after 3 weeks due to fall in homoglobin level which is under 7. one thing that helped me a great deal in controlling viral load without taking any medicine is that I drink 16 glasses of boiled water daily. 4 glasses in the morning with empty stomach and before cleaning tooth. then 4 glasses 2 hours after breakfast . then 4 glasses after 3 hours then 4 glasses of water 2 hours after lunch. it really worked for me.


Brett Winn profile image

Brett Winn 4 years ago from US Author

Farooq ... that is wonderful to know! I will share it with my friend who fights Hep c. He took the interferon for eleven weeks, but it made him violently ill and he had to stop. I was reading yesterday about taurine, which is good for joint pain, high blood pressure and gout, and several articles talked about how helpful taurine is with Hep. C. Thanks for reading and commenting, and I hope all continues to go well for you!


rutley profile image

rutley 4 years ago from South Jersey

Great hub and thank you! Voted up!


rajan jolly profile image

rajan jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

Brett, very useful information put in here. I'm glad you put in a couple of alternate therapies to treat this.

Voted up, useful and interesting.


mary615 profile image

mary615 4 years ago from Florida

Hi Brett, just wanted to come back and give you an update on my Grandson. He saw the specialist again 3 weeks ago. Labs were all repeated and the Liver Enzmes are about the same. He has the genotype I. The doctor said (as does your article) that is the most resistant to treatment, and he just doesn't want to subject him to that just yet. We will wait another six months; do more labs. He did say more and more drugs are coming on the market for Hep C so we'll get him a little more time. My Grandson has little energy, that is biggest complaint. Good to see you again, Mary


conradofontanilla profile image

conradofontanilla 3 years ago from Philippines

Hepa B and C are similar in that they cannot be completely eradicated after a person gets well from an infection with them. A person infected by hepa A can eliminate this virus after getting well.

Clinical practice has shown that hepa B can be treated by infusion chelation therapy. Such chelation is being administered by Dr. Arturo V. Estuita, MD, a Filipino internist and chelationist, in his clinic in Pasay City, Philippines. So far 10 hepa B victims had been treated since March 2012. For example an 8 million viral load is reduced to 10,000 viral load in 8 to 10 sessions of infusion chelation therapy that has no side effect. I have a Hub "A medical breakthrough in the control of hepatitis B by chelation therapy." One fellow with a viral load of 8 million was applying as crew in an ocean-going ship. He went for hepa B treatment to Dr. Estuita. After treatment by Dr. Estuita he went for hepa B tests in the accredited clinic of the the shipping company. He passed the test and is now employed by the shipping company.


Brett Winn profile image

Brett Winn 3 years ago from US Author

Thank you so much for sharing this info, and for taking the time to comment! I have a dear friend with Hep. C and I hope that one day a complete cure will be found.

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