Understanding Hepatitis C and How to Respond
A chronic disease that attacks the liver, Hepatitis C (or Hep C) can be connected with other chronic illnesses and autoimmune deficiencies also. Examples include kidney disease and diabetes, as well as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and cryoglobulinemia. Sufferers within the US alone are estimated at just under 4 million, with effects of the disease varying greatly.
What is Hep C?
By destroying liver cells, Hep C leads to inflammation of the liver and, in extreme cases, can mean the liver failing completely. The disease is transferred within the bloodstream and is most commonly passed on via shared needles used for drug injections. Having the virus itself can mean either an acute or chronic form of the disease, with the effects proving light in many but a danger to life in others.
Being exposed to the virus can occur from unwise injections but also from blood transfusions if the screening process has been overlooked.
At this time, no vaccine has been developed, although a significant amount of laboratory work is going into developing one.
Who is at Risk of Hep C?
Hep C sufferers can be found worldwide, although there are several known genotypes. Type 1 is the North American strain, but all strains of the disease show similar effects when an infection has occurred.
In order to avoid catching Hep C, it is important to be aware of the scenarios and situations that can place you at risk, with some inevitably being more at risk than others.
- When a needle for drug injection is used by more than one person. Those who have tried illegal substances should get themselves tested.
- People who tattoo their skin are at high risk, especially if the tattooist works with unsterilized equipment.
- Infected mothers can pass on Hep C to their children but not fathers.
- The two decades between 1955–70 are notable for a lack of infection control measures and widespread safeguards, meaning anyone who worked in medical laboratories and with equipment unsterilized may have been at risk.
- 1992 is also an important date for the progress of Hep C in the US population as prior to this date no blood donors were screened for the disease.
- Individuals who depend on hemodialysis to keep their kidneys healthy.
- Those who have also been infected with the HIV virus.
What Treatments Can Help Those With Hep C?
While we are still waiting for a cure, treatments are obtainable to help manage the disease, which works by clearing the bloodstream of the virus. Antiviral medication tends to provide the most effective solution.
Thanks to steps taken to improve the impact that antiviral medication has on Hep C, those who become infected can now expect to have less extreme consequences and be able to pursue a positive lifestyle, so long as they are correctly diagnosed. The various genotypes do mean adjustments to the anti-viral solutions, which are now swift acting.
In the most extreme cases, some patients may have to go as far as a liver transplant. This can prevent death from liver failure, however, this does not cure Hep C and so antiviral solutions are still required moving forward to manage the symptoms.
Understanding the Symptoms?
A large proportion of people with Hep C – around three quarters – do not experience any of the negative symptoms, which can contribute to its spread because many who have it are undiagnosed. Those who do experience symptoms become aware between two and six months of contracting the disease, though most are not extreme and similar to the common cold.
Below are some key signs to look out for.
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Aches and pains in the joints and muscles
- Pain in the abdominal region
- Falling appetite
- Sickness and nausea
- Darker urine flow
- Occasionally jaundice, which causes the skin and eyes to turn yellow