Hepatitis is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus that attacks the liver. Many people who become infected with hepatitis C never feel sick and recover completely. Others get a brief, acute illness with fatigue and loss of appetite and their skin and eyes turn yellow (a condition called “jaundice”). If your body is not able to fight off the virus, you may develop chronic hepatitis which can lead to cirrhosis (liver scarring), liver failure and even liver cancer later in life. Like chronic hepatitis B, chronic hepatitis C is a “silent” disease because often no symptoms appear until your liver is severely damaged.
For a short video this topic, click the image below.
Video courtesy of Streaming Well and based on UK facts and stats.
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Hepatitis C is common worldwide. An estimated 170 million individuals worldwide including an estimated 250,000 in Canada are infected. Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood contact, which means that to contract hepatitis C, blood infected with the hepatitis C virus must get into your blood stream
You may risk exposure to hepatitis C by using injection drugs (even once), getting tattoos, piercings, pedicures, manicures or medical procedures with improperly sterilized equipment, sharing personal hygiene items with an infected person (e.g. razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers) or having had a blood transfusion or received blood products prior to July 1990.
You have a high risk of contracting hepatitis C if you:
You have a high moderate risk of contracting hepatitis C if you:
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When you have just become infected with the hepatitis C virus, you may have no symptoms and may not even know you have been infected. This is the acute infection phase and can last from six to eight weeks, or longer. If you have symptoms, they are usually mild and may include fatigue, lethargy, nausea, reduced appetite, abdominal pain and jaundice.
Over time, the virus may disappear on its own, and you are no longer infected. This happens to approximately 25 out of 100 hepatitis C-infected people. If the virus does not disappear after six months, your infection is chronic. This happens to approximately 75 out of 100 hepatitis C-infected people.
If your hepatitis C is chronic, in three out of four cases, you will have only very mild to moderate damage to your liver over time. However, in one out of four cases, chronic hepatitis C can lead to more serious problems including cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer over a period of 25 to 30 years.
You are more likely to develop cirrhosis if you drink alcohol, are obese, are male, became infected after age 40, have another type of liver disease or have another chronic infection, such as HIV or hepatitis B in addition to hepatitis C.
To determine whether or not you have hepatitis C, you will need to have blood tests. (see section entitled ‘Who should get tested?)
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Ask your health care provider for a simple blood test to determine if you have the virus.
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If the test result is NON-REACTIVE/NEGATIVE
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Most people with acute hepatitis C have no symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they will likely be mild and may include fatigue, lethargy, nausea, reduced appetite, abdominal pain and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).
People with chronic hepatitis C may also have no symptoms. If you do develop symptoms, they may be very similar to those noted above. The most commonly reported symptom of chronic hepatitis C is fatigue. If you have chronic fatigue, you may feel tired or have no energy, or you may be so tired you have trouble getting through the day. You may also feel not energized or refreshed when you get up in the morning. Regular exercise is the best way to deal with this symptom. Healthy eating can also help you feel less fatigued.
Depending upon what form (genotype) of the hepatitis C virus you are infected with, treatment can cure your illness. However, it is possible to be reinfected with another genotype of hepatitis C virus.
Since 2010, enormous progress has been made in treatment of chronic hepatitis C. New therapies called direct acting antivirals (DAAs) are pills that act on the virus itself to eradicate it from the body, unlike older medicines like interferon injections which work by stimulating an immune response. These new treatments are very effective and can achieve cure rates of over 90%. In most situations now, there is no need for interferon, which was responsible for many of the side effects previously associated with HCV treatment. The new treatment combinations require shorter treatment durations (between 8 to 24 weeks), have reduced side effects and appear to be effective at all stages of the disease.
Because these new therapies are very new, they remain very expensive. As such, drug coverage from both government and private companies may require that your liver disease has progressed to a certain stage before they are willing to cover the cost of these drugs.
Your primary care physician may refer you to a specialist to determine whether you are eligible for treatment. A specialist will help you decide which drug therapy is best for you based on the severity of your liver disease, your virus genotype and whether or not you have been treated in the past.
If you are not presently eligible for treatment, it is important that you make sure to have your liver monitored at least once a year to follow the progression of the disease. You are strongly advised to have regular check-ups of your liver. Although liver failure and cancer can be the end results of this disease, your physician can identify liver changes long before this happens. Treating HCV drastically reduces these outcomes.
No alternative therapies which include herbal remedies, homeopathic medicines, and minerals have been proven safe and effective for treatment of hepatitis C. Be sure to tell your health care provider what medications and alternative therapies you are taking.
There is no vaccine to protect you against hepatitis C. To avoid contracting hepatitis C, take the following precautions:
In partnership with the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), we are pleased to offer you Hepatitis C: The Basics, a free online course that covers basic information about hepatitis C. It is intended for those living with hepatitis C, whether newly diagnosed or having lived with it for a number of years.
This self-paced course includes videos and plain language narration.
To access the course:
1. Click the “Go for Care” image on the right.
2. After a new window opens, click 'Start Course'
The information provided here – as well as more information on how to manage chronic hepatitis C – is available in the Canadian Liver Foundation’s hepatitis C pamphlet and in our ‘LIVERight: Healthy Living with Viral Hepatitis’ booklet. These and other CLF publications are available for download in the Publications Library or by calling 1-800-563-5483 or emailing email@example.com
The CLF offers Living with Liver Disease programs for people living with hepatitis C and others forms of liver disease. You can also help others with hepatitis C by volunteering or donating in support of the CLF's research and education programs.
To read about research projects on viral hepatitis click here
To make a donation to support liver health research, click here
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