Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that commonly infects the cells of the liver, resulting in inflammation and a significant amount of damage caused to the liver. It can also affect the liver’s ability to perform its necessary functions. Although it has always been regarded as a disease of the liver- ‘hepatitis’ means ‘inflammation of the liver’ – recent research has shown that the hepatitis C virus (HCV) affects other areas of the body too. These can include the lymphatic system, digestive system, the immune system and the brain. There are two stages of hepatitis C.
WHAT ARE THE TWO STAGES OF HEPATITIS C?
- Acute infection (following initial infection): This is the first stage. It refers to the first 6 months of infection and does not necessarily result in any noticeable symptoms. Approximately 20% of people infected with hepatitis C will clear the virus from their body naturally within the first six months.
- Chronic infection: This is the second stage of hepatitis C. For the remaining 80% a chronic – or long term – infection will develop.
SYMPTOMS OF HEPATITIS C
- Muscle aches
- A high temperature (fever)
- Constant fatigue
- A loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain (n the upper abdomen)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Jaundice (yellow tinge to the eyes and skin)
- Dark urine and light colored poo
TREATMENT OPTIONS AVAILABLE FOR HEPATITIS C
Hepatitis C is the number one cause of liver cancer and subsequently the number one cause of liver transplants. It’s caused by a virus that you can catch if you come into contact with blood that is contaminated by hepatitis C. You can also get it from an unclean tattoo needle or during sex.
Hepatitis C is curable but doing so hasn’t always been easy or comfortable and treatment may last for decades. The main target of treating Hepatitis C is to boost the immune system and make it fight the virus.
There are new ways of treating the disease but there is no “one-size-fits-all” option. There are many different types or “genotypes,” of hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C Type 1 is the most common of these genotypes. This is important to understand when you talk to your doctor as not all meds work on all types. Which medicine is best for you also depends on how much liver cirrhosis (scarring) you have.
Your doctor might administer new drugs as direct-acting antivirals as they zoom in on the virus that’s making you sick. Each drug works slightly differently. However, the medicine normally interferes with the proteins in your body that the virus feeds on in order to grow or spread.
Most of the time, new medicines remove all traces of the virus from your blood within 12 weeks. It is known as virus clearance and it’s what doctors look for to determine whether you are cured or not. How long you need treatment for can vary from 8 to 24 weeks.
DIAGNOSING HEPATITIS C
- Physical examination: First, your doctor will talk to you, get your medical history and do a physical examination to check the symptoms.
- A hepatitis C virus test: This is a rapid blood test that looks for antibodies against the hepatitis C virus. It shows whether you have been exposed to the virus. This test will provide results within 20 minutes.
- A blood test that looks for the genetic material (RNA) of the hepatitis C virus: This test shows whether you are presently infected with the virus.
- A blood test to find out the genotype of hepatitis C virus you have: Knowing your genotype will assist you and your doctor in deciding if and how you should be treated.
- Liver function tests: Blood tests that can help your doctor determine whether you have liver damage.
- Liver biopsy: This test involves your doctor putting a needle into your liver and extracting a small piece of your liver to test whether the virus has caused scarring or damage to your liver.
- Imaging tests: Tests such as CT scan, MRI, or ultrasound can assist your doctor in making sure that you don’t have liver cancer.