While most of us know that hepatitis C is a liver disease, there’s much more we need to learn in order to protect ourselves against a form of the disease that can cause long-term health problems, even death. Hepatitis C is also known as HepC or HCV. While there is treatment available for hepatitis C, you have to be aware that you have it to get treatment and it is estimated that 50% of those who are infected are unaware of it. And if you are infected, you can also transmit HepC to someone else without knowing it.
It takes a virus
Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes liver inflammation, sometimes leading to serious liver damage. The virus is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. Today, most people become infected with the hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to prepare or inject drugs. Before 1992, hepatitis C was also commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. After that, widespread screening of the blood supply in the United States virtually eliminated this source of infection.
What is the difference between chronic hepatitis C and acute hepatitis C
Hepatitis C can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. Hepatitis C is often described as “acute,” meaning a new infection or “chronic,” meaning lifelong infection.
- Acute hepatitis C occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the hepatitis C virus. Hepatitis C can be a short-term illness, but for most people, acute infection leads to chronic infection.
- Chronic hepatitis C can be a lifelong infection with the hepatitis C virus if left untreated. If treatment is not received, chronic hepatitis C can cause serious health problems, including liver damage, cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer, or death
And now for the good news, hepatitis C can be treated, as long as you know you have it
This is all sounding very depressing, but there is some good news about Hep C. It is definitely treatable and generally is curable. Antiviral medicines can cure more than 95% of persons with hepatitis C infection, which reduces the risk of death from liver cancer and cirrhosis. Unfortunately, at the present time diagnosis and treatment is low. You have to find out that you have the infection, in order to cure it! Advanced treatments are now available that can slow or stop the virus from damaging your liver. That’s why it’s so important to find out if you have HepC, so we can cure it.
How can I tell if I have hepatitis C? Get tested!
Hepatitis C is diagnosed through blood tests. These tests will show if you have chronic hepatitis C or another type of hepatitis. Depending on the results of these blood tests, your healthcare provider may want to perform a liver biopsy (a needle is used to remove a tiny sample of your liver, which is analyzed under a microscope in a lab).
Your doctor will also want to take a complete medical history and perform a physical exam. The blood test will show if your liver enzymes are elevated. A rapid blood test is available which show results in about twenty minutes.
Other diagnostic tools used are imaging tests such as a CT scan, MRI, or ultrasound to make sure you do not have liver cancer. If you do have the hepatitis C virus, it is suggested that you get tested for HIV as well.
Who should get tested?
Some people are at increased risk for having hepatitis C, including:
- Current or former injection drug users, including those who injected only once many years ago
- Those born from 1945 through 1965 – this group is five times more likely to have been infected before the blood supply was screened.
- Recipients of clotting factor concentrates made before 1987, when less advanced methods for manufacturing those products were used
- Recipients of blood transfusions or solid organ transplants prior to July 1992, before better testing of blood donors became available
- Hemodialysis patients
- People with known exposures to the hepatitis C virus, such as: Healthcare workers after needle sticks involving blood from someone who is infected with the hepatitis C virus; or Recipients of blood or organs from a donor who tested positive for the hepatitis C virus
- People with HIV infection
- Children born to mothers infected with the hepatitis C virus
- People who are incarcerated
- People who use intranasal drugs
- People who received body piercing or tattoos done with non-sterile instruments
How is hepatitis C spread?
When blood from someone with hepatitis C enters the body of someone who doesn’t have hepatitis C, they can become infected. Before 1992, hepatitis C was often spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. After 1992, the national blood supply was carefully screened and this is no longer a risk. Today, most often the sharing of needles and other equipment used to prepare or inject drugs is the most common way that people get infected with HepC.
Generally, you cannot get hepatitis C by any of these means:
- Sharing eating utensils
- Holding hands
- From food or water
Where can I get tested?
Your primary care provider can refer you to a gastroenterologist or you can make an appointment with a gastroenterologist yourself. Don’t have a primary? Now is the perfect time to start a relationship. Call (845)790-6100 today for an appointment. Premier Medical Group has board-certified gastroenterologists who can help you with both testing and treatment of hepatitis C.
Let us help you make hepatitis C a thing of the past!