What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver. It is one of the most severe forms of several hepatitis types. A virus causes the disease and spreads from person to person through infected blood. The result is inflammation and damage to the liver. A healthy liver carries out many important functions including digestion and the metabolism of various substances. If hepatitis C goes untreated, long term damage to the liver can cause “cirrhosis” (liver scarring) and eventually result in the need for a liver transplant.
Hepatitis C is caused by a virus. It usually spreads through contact with infected blood or body fluids. Examples include sharing needles, sexual contact, and transfer from mother to child during childbirth.
Those who suffer from hepatitis C should avoid spreading it to others. Spreading the disease can best be avoided through hand washing, properly disposing of needles and personal care products, avoiding unprotected sexual intercourse, and notifying all of your health care providers.
Hepatitis C often begins with no symptoms. The early stages of hepatitis C are referred to as “acute” or short-term hepatitis C. For many people the infection becomes chronic or long-term hepatitis C.
When symptoms do develop, they can include fatigue, nausea, stomach pain, decreased appetite, weight loss, and muscle/joint pain.
Managing Hepatitis C
Managing hepatitis C includes both non-drug and drug therapies. The goal of treating hepatitis C is to prevent the disease from getting worse and to eliminate the virus from the body.
Not every person with hepatitis C will develop severe damage to their liver. Factors that can worsen hepatitis C include alcohol use, illicit drugs, an unhealthy diet, a lack of exercise and rest, and obesity. It is important to work with your health care provider to understand your condition and develop a long-term plan.
Not every person with hepatitis C needs to be treated with medications. Also, there are different subtypes of hepatitis C that may be treated differently. A discussion with your health care provider is important to determine if you will require treatment. Fortunately, hepatitis C can be cured. Medications can eliminate the virus from the body to a level that can longer be detected.
Recently there have been major changes to Hepatitis C medication treatment. Hepatitis C was historically treated with an oral medication (ribavirin) and an injectable (interferon). These medications were taken together for several months and then no longer needed. In 2011, two additional oral medications called protease inhibitors (Incivek [telaprevir] and Victrelis [boceprevir]) became available. These were used as “triple therapy” with existing agents. In 2013, the FDA approved additional products (Olysio [simeprevir] and Sovaldi [sofosbuvir]). Two additional oral agents (Harvoni and Viekira) were approved by the FDA in 2014.
American Liver Foundation (ALF)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Hepatitis C Association
Hepatitis Foundation International (HFI)