Hepatitis C

November 12, 2012

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver. There are a number of hepatitis strains caused by specific viruses, with one exception – autoimmune hepatitis is the result of the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacking the liver.

At risk groups

Hepatitis C is transmitted, and contracted, through infected bodily fluids. There are a number of groups of people who are at high risk of contracting hepatitis, these include -

  • Anyone who was treated with dialysis prior to 1992

  • Anyone receiving a blood transfusion or organ transplant prior to 1992

  • Patients who received clotting factors prior to 1987

  • Medical workers

  • Individuals engaging in unprotected sex, with a higher risk if multiple partners are involved

  • Intravenous drug users who share needles and drug paraphernalia – it is not just habitual drug users who are at risk of contracting hepatitis, infection has been observed after a single use of a shared, dirty needle.

  • Those who have tattoos or body piercings using dirty needles

  • Babies born to an infected mother

Individuals in the various high risk categories should undergo regular testing for the virus and endeavour to make the necessary lifestyle changes which will reduce the chance of infection.

Practising safe sex by always using a condom and never sharing drug equipment will greatly reduce the risk of infection.

Acute or chronic

As many as 40% of those with acute hepatitis C will make a full recovery within six months of initial exposure, often without treatment. The remaining infected individuals will develop chronic hepatitis C and will be infectious to those around them.

Symptoms

It is extremely common for individuals with either acute or chronic hepatitis C to exhibit no symptoms at all – by the time symptoms begin to appear the patient may already have sustained significant damage to the liver. However, there are some signs and symptoms which, if noted, should be referred to a medical practitioner, these include -

  • Extreme fatigue

  • Intolerable itchiness

  • Dark urine

  • Light coloured stools

  • Aches and pains in the muscle and joints

  • Nausea

  • Jaundice

  • Loss of appetite

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Abdominal pain

Pregnancy and hepatitis

Pregnant women infected with the hepatitis C virus should take extra precautions for the duration of their pregnancy. Expectant women should be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B and should abstain from drinking alcohol. Regular checks should be made on liver function and enzymes throughout pregnancy and the consulting paediatrician should be fully aware of the woman’s condition.

Treatment

The treatment program for hepatitis C is generally a regime of anti-viral medications such as interferon and ribavirin. The different strands of the virus respond in different ways to treatment with some strands being treated with more success than others. Recently developed medications have been found to be successful in treating patients who have previously failed to respond to the traditional medications. When an early diagnosis is made hepatitis responds well to treatment with over half of sufferers realising a cure.

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