Hep c – contracting, treatment and prevention

November 12, 2012

Hep c – contracting, treatment and prevention

Hep c is the abbreviation given to the serious viral infection hepatitis C. Hepatitis C causes liver damage and, currently, there is no available vaccine to protect against infection. A healthy liver is essential due to life – the liver is responsible for removal of toxins from the bloodstream; aids digestion; fights infection; stores energy, nutrients and vitamins.

How is hep c contracted?

Contraction of hepatitis C is very often, but not always, a result of lifestyle choices.

  • A pregnant mother can pass the virus to her baby

  • Unprotected sex with an infected person

  • Sharing needles

  • Sharing razors or toothbrushes with an infected person

  • Unhygienic procedures in tattoo and piercing parlours have been identified as causing hep c

  • Accidental needle stick injuries in the work place also carry a risk of infection.

  • Receiving contaminated blood through a transfusion

Whilst almost anyone can become infected with hepatitis C, some groups are more at risk of contracting the virus than others -

  • Those who have had multiple sexual partners and/or have a history of sexually transmitted diseases

  • Individuals who have been the recipient of a blood transfusion or organ donation prior to 1992

  • Haemophilia patients who received blood products prior to 1987

  • Infants born to infected mothers

  • Intravenous drug users

  • Medical professionals

Symptoms

The symptoms of hep c vary from individual to individual and may not appear for many years after the initial viral infection, by which time there may well be considerable damage to liver function. The symptoms of hep c include the following -

  • Jaundice – manifesting as yellowing of the skin and eyes

  • Swelling of the abdomen and ankles

  • Bruising and prolonged bleeding

  • Fatigue

  • Nausea, loss of appetite

  • Diarrhea

  • Fever

  • Stools which are unusually light in colour

  • Dark urine

Untreated hep c may lead to cirrhosis of the liver and even death.

Treatment

Up to 30% of individuals infected with the hepatitis C virus will clear the infection from their system within a few months; however the remaining 70% will develop chronic hep c after around six months due to the inability of the immune system to clear the virus. Without medical treatment the hepatitis C virus will remain in the body and continue to pose a threat of infection to those around the sufferer.

Treatment programs for hepatitis c infection depend on a number of factors. A patient with chronic hepatitis C will be referred to a liver specialist who will decide what treatment, if any, is necessary. Tests include -

  • Blood tests to determine presence and strain of the virus

  • Blood tests to determine liver function

  • Liver biopsy to detect any cirrhosis

Initial treatment may include antiviral drug therapy given either singly or in combination.

Prevention of the disease

Simple lifestyle choices can greatly reduce the risk of contracting hepatitis C -

  • Practice safe sex

  • Never share needles or other drug paraphernalia

  • Practise good hygiene around an infected person

People known to carry the hepatitis C virus are no longer allowed to donate blood and the virus cannot be transmitted through normal every day contact.

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