What you need to know:
- There are currently no vaccines against Hepatitis C.
- Medical advances have made it possible to treat and cure Hepatitis C.
- The most effective mode of prevention is by identifying the causes of transmission and avoiding them.
Hepatitis C is an inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus known as HCV. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), this virus is usually spread through contact with blood from an infected person. “Hepatitis C virus is a blood-borne virus and most infections occur through exposure to blood from unsafe injection practices, unsafe health care, unscreened blood transfusions, injection drug use, and sexual practices that lead to exposure to blood,” the WHO states.
The burden of this disease has been rising at an alarming rate. WHO estimates that 58 million people have chronic hepatitis C virus infection worldwide. Every year, an estimated 1.5 million new infections are recorded. In 2019 for instance, an estimated 290 000 people died from hepatitis C. The deaths were due to liver cirrhosis and primary liver cancer which are the end result of chronic Hepatitis C.
The CDC states that hepatitis C could be a short-term illness for some people. “However, this virus tends to be a long-term and chronic infection for more than half of people who become infected with the Hepatitis C virus,” the CDC states.
Symptoms and transmission
People with chronic hepatitis C can often have no symptoms. They may also not feel sick. The Centre for Disease Control states that when symptoms of Hepatitis C appear, they are often a sign of advanced liver disease. This is echoed by the World Health Organization. WHO says the majority of people will not exhibit symptoms in the initial weeks. “However, patients who get acute Hepatitis C will show symptoms that will include fever, fatigue, poor appetite, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, pale faeces, joint pain, and jaundice or the yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes,” the WHO states.
Some symptoms persons with Hepatitis exhibit will be similar or closely similar to symptoms exhibited by persons with Hepatitis B. These common symptoms include fatigue, poor appetite, stomach pain, nausea and vomiting, dark urine, and jaundice. The WHO is quick to point out that Hepatitis C is not spread through breast milk, food, water, or casual contact such as hugging, kissing, and sharing food or drinks with an infected person. “However, it can be passed from an infected mother to her baby,” the WHO says. “It can also be transmitted through sexual practices that lead to exposure to blood. This is not very common but includes persons with multiple sexual partners and men who identify as LGBTQ.”
Chronic Hepatitis C
According to the WHO, it is recommendable that anyone who is diagnosed with chronic Hepatitis C is taken through a thorough medical screening to determine how damaged his or her liver is. This screening is for liver diseases known as cirrhosis and fibrosis. According to the World Health Organization in 2015, 720,000 deaths were attributed to cirrhosis while 470,000 deaths were attributed to primary liver cancer. Hepatitis C is one of the main causes of chronic liver disease. The other is Hepatitis B. The risk of developing cirrhosis after becoming infected with HCV will vary. For example, the CDC notes that men will be at a higher risk than women. “In addition, persons aged 50 years and above, persons who consume alcohol, persons with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, Hepatitis B, or HIV co-infection will be at a higher risk when infected with Hepatitis C,” the CDC states.
Prevention and Treatment
There are currently no vaccines against Hepatitis C. However, medical advances have made it possible to treat and cure Hepatitis C. The most effective mode of prevention is by identifying the causes of transmission and avoiding them.
The CDC recommends testing if you have symptoms similar to those of Hepatitis C. “Testing is paramount in the management of the disease. Early treatment will cure patients with HCV in about eight to twelve weeks,” the CDC states. In the same vein, the WHO states that antiviral medicines can cure more than 95 percent of persons with Hepatitis C infection. Nonetheless, suspecting that you have this virus can be difficult. This is because of the body’s tendency to stay asymptomatic despite carrying the virus.
“This means that only a few people are diagnosed when the infection is recent,” the WHO states. The incubation period for hepatitis C ranges from 2 weeks to 6 months. “In those people who go on to develop chronic HCV infection, the infection is often undiagnosed because it remains asymptomatic until decades after infection when symptoms develop secondary to serious liver damage,” says the WHO.