Hepatitis C

LIVER HEALTH CONNECTION FACT SHEET REVIEWED 070116

 

What is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The virus causes the liver to form tiny scars, which, over time, join together and begin to prevent

blood from flowing freely through the liver. It is a blood-borne virus. Hepatitis C causes inflammation and scarring of the liver which may lead to complications such

as cirrhosis, cancer, liver failure, and even death. There are 9 genotypes and over 50 subtypes within those genotypes. Genotype 1 is the most common HCV

genotype in the United States. (CDC 2015) HCV is transmitted by contaminated blood that enters the blood stream of a non-infected person through a cut, or tear

in the skin or mucous membrane in order for a new infection to occur.

 

Why is the liver important?

Just as you can’t live without a heart or brain, you can’t live without a liver. Your liver transforms food into energy, sends nourishment through the blood to cells, stores nutrients, fats, and vitamins, and makes proteins needed to help blood clot. Your liver also acts as a filter to clean wastes and poisons, like alcohol, drugs, caffeine, preservatives, and other toxins from the blood.

 

How serious is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is serious for some people but others may have no long-term effects. Most people who get hepatitis C carry the virus for the rest of their lives. Some people with liver damage due to hepatitis C may develop cirrhosis, liver cancer or liver failure, which may take many years to develop. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplants.

 

How do you get hepatitis C?

The hepatitis C virus is present in the blood and is spread when infected blood from one person enters the body of another. The sharing of needles and drug paraphernalia while injecting drugs is the most common risk factor.  About 30% of people who have been infected with HIV (AIDS) are also infected with HCV. You are also at risk if you have received a blood transfusion or organ transplant prior to 1992, blood-clotting products prior to 1987, or long-term hemodialysis. Healthcare workers exposed to accidental needle sticks and children born to hepatitis C-positive mothers can also become infected. Sexual transmission of hepatitis C does occur, but it is not easily spread in this manner. The risk of sexual transmission increases if you have had multiple sex partners.  Blood contamination on items that pierce the skin or come into contact with non-intact skin or mucous membranes also pose a risk. Such items may include piercing and tattooing equipment, drug snorting equipment, military inoculation guns, razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers, etc.  Hepatitis C is NOT spread through casual contact or by swimming pools, toilets, and water fountains. It is NOT  spread by coughing, sneezing, hugging, sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses, or through breastfeeding (unless nipples are cracked and bleeding).

 

Risk Factors

  • People who inject and or snort drugs

  • Jail or home tattoos/ piercings

  • Blood transfusions or organ transplants, tissue grafting before 1992

  • Blood transfusions outside of the U.S.

  • Unprotected sex if blood is present

  • Sharing razors, toothbrushes, nail files, other household object potentially contaminated with blood.


Statistics

  • Chronic hepatitis C 79,542 in 2013 reported to CDC (CDC 2013)

  • Chronic hepatitis C in Colorado 2,982 reported to (CDC 2013)

  • Acute hepatitis C in Colorado 21 reported to (CDPHE 2014)

  • Number of deaths reported in Colorado due to HCV complications 345 (CDPHE 2012)

  • Around 25% are co-infected with HIV (CDC 2014)


Prevention

  • Use clean needles and supply

  • Don’t share injection supplies

  • Get body art in licensed environments

  • Use condoms (consistently and correctly

  • Get tested! Get treated!

 

What are the symptoms of hepatitis C?

Many persons with hepatitis C have no symptoms at all but some will notice mild to severe symptoms such as: “Flu-like” symptoms, abdominal discomfort, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weight loss, and sometimes yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice).

 

How soon do symptoms appear?

If symptoms appear, it can be anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months after exposure, with an average of 6-9 weeks. Many infected people will never have symptoms.

 

Why should I be tested for hepatitis C?

Early diagnosis is important so that you can be checked for liver damage and receive treatment if you need it. Treatment is most effective before severe liver damage has occurred. You can also learn how you can protect your liver from further harm and how you can prevent the spread of HCV to other people. If you think you may have been exposed to the virus or have signs or symptoms of liver disease such as an abnormal liver enzyme test, you should talk to your doctor about getting tested.

 

What blood tests will I need to have done to diagnose hepatitis C?

Your doctor can tell if you’re infected with the hepatitis C virus by performing blood tests that look at several different things such as:

  • Antibodies: Doctors use the ELISA and RIBA tests to detect the presence of antibodies that the body produces against the hepatitis C virus. If this test is positive, it means you have been exposed to the virus but does not tell if you still have the virus.

  • Viral load: These tests can tell whether the virus is present and how much is in your blood.

 

What if I test positive for hepatitis C?

Multiple treatments are available for those with hepatitis C. In fact, there are newer medications that can cure a large majority of the patients who take these medications. In addition to being more effective, these newer treatments usually have few side effects and a short treatment duration of 8 to 12 weeks.

A healthy diet, lifestyle, and exercise program will keep your liver healthier and help you feel better. You should eliminate or reduce alcohol consumption and do not start any new medicines or use over-the-counter herbal or other products without a doctor’s ok. You may need to be vaccinated against hepatitis A and hepatitis B and you must learn how to prevent spreading the virus to others.

 

How can I protect myself from getting hepatitis C?

Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after blood exposure. Wear gloves when cleaning up blood.  Wash blood- contaminated surfaces with soap and water and then disinfect with a bleach and water solution (1 part bleach to 10 parts water). Healthcare professionals should always follow routine barrier precautions and safely handle needles and other sharps.  Injection drug users should make sure that needles, syringes, and works are sterile and never shared. Never draw  drugs out of a supply that has been mixed in a shared and possibly contaminated container. When getting a  tattoo or body piercing, make sure the artist uses sterile needles, tools, and ink and follows good health practices.  Practice safer sex by using latex condoms. Do not share personal items that may have your blood on them such as  razors, nail files, and toothbrushes.

 

Where can I get more information?

There is a great deal of information and support available to help you understand the disease and how to live with it. Here are some resources to get you started:

 

Conclusion:
Getting tested and diagnosed early will reduce health complications before the virus spreads enough to cause more damage to your liver. Free antibody screenings are available at little to no cost to the general public. The CDC recommends that all baby boomers get tested at least once in their lifetime due to the fact that baby boomers make up 75% of those that have hepatitis C in the U.S. Hepatitis C can live outside the body in perfect conditions up to 6 weeks., as well as syringes up to 6 months.

 

References:
(n.d.). Retrieved September 15, 2015, from
https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/DC_Hep_C2010Report.pdf

(n.d.). Retrieved September 15, 2015, from
http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/pdf/library_factsheets_HIV_and_viral_Hepatitis.pdf

(n.d.). Retrieved September 15, 2015, from
http://hepc-connection.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Fact-Sheet-2010-English.pdf

Hepatitis C FAQs for Health Professionals. (2015, May 31). Retrieved September 15, 2015, from
http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/hcvfaq.htm#a1

Surveillance for Viral Hepatitis – United States, 2013. (2015, June 25). Retrieved September 15,
2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/statistics/2013surveillance/index.htm#tabs-801919-3

Surveillance for Viral Hepatitis – United States, 2013. (2015, June 26). Retrieved September 15,2015, from
http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/statistics/2013surveillance/commentary.htm#hepatitisC

 

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