Early Signs of Hepatitis C and Treatments to Know

Hepatitis C (Hep C) is a chronic disease that targets the liver, although the disease can be linked to autoimmune disorders and other chronic illnesses such as retinal complication, diabetes, kidney disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, among others. According to WebMD, about 3.9 million people in the U.S are living with the disease.

Hep C used to be thought by medical professionals as a benign illness because of the slow progression of the disease, however, in recent years Hep C has caused people to go into liver failure.

It’s important to note that Hep C affects people differently. Some people with chronic Hep C do not experience any symptoms, while for 10 to 25 percent of people the disease progresses over a period of 10 to 40 years.  Here’s everything you need to know about Hep C and what early signs to watch out for.

What is Hep C?

Hep C is a serious illness because it’s a contagious blood-borne virus that results in liver inflammation and ultimately kills the liver cells, which in some cases can lead to liver failure. The illness is caused by the hepatitis C virus, which can result in both acute and chronic hepatitis. Plus, the severity of the disease can range from mild to life-threatening.

The most common way the virus is spread is through exposure to infected blood. This may happen through infected needles, unsafe injection practices, and the transfusion of unscreened blood, among others.

While there is currently no vaccine for Hep C, research is ongoing.

Who is at Risk for Hep C?

Hep C affects people globally, and exists in several distinct forms, known as genotypes. The most common genotype in North America is type 1. It is important to note that Hep C follows a similar course, no matter what genotype.

Since the virus is usually spread when blood from a person infected with Hep C enters the body of someone who is not infected, there are several people who are may be at risk.

  1. Sharing or using infected needles. It’s important to get tested for Hep C if you’ve ever experimented with drugs.
  2. Getting a tattoo with non-sterile equipment.
  3. Born to a mother infected with Hep C.
  4. Were born before universal precautions and infection control procedures. Anyone born between 1955 and 1975 and were in contacted with non-sterile medical equipment should get tested.
  5. Had a blood transfusion before 1992. This was before the time blood donation was tested for Hep C.
  6. Hemodialysis Patients.
  7. Those who are HIV positive.

What Are the Treatments Available?

Although there is no vaccine for the Hep C virus, there are still treatments available that are intended to clear the virus from the body of the infected person. The virus is usually treated with antiviral medication.

There have been significant advances in the antiviral medication, and as a result of the new “direct-acting” anti-viral medication, people infected with the virus have experience positive outcomes and fewer side effects. The choice of anti-viral medication will depend on the genotype.

A liver transplant may be an option for patients who develop serious complications from the Hep C virus. Unfortunately, a liver transplant is not the end all cure for Hep C. The infection most likely will return, requiring the patient to treat the virus with antiviral medication.

What Are the Symptoms?

It’s important to note that about 70 to 80 percent of people with acute Hep C do not experience any symptoms or signs of the virus. Those who experience symptoms of Hep C, usually report symptoms within two to six months of being exposed to the virus. These symptoms are usually mild, and many have reported flu-like signs.

Here are some early signs that may indicate you’ve been exposed to the virus.

  1. Extreme fatigue
  2. Joint pain and sore muscles
  3. Fever
  4. Abdominal pain
  5. Decrease appetite
  6. Nausea and vomiting
  7. Dark colored urine
  8. Some people may experience jaundice, which is yellowing of the skin and eyes
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