Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). It’s a silent disease that initially has little to no symptoms. Years may pass before symptoms appear, and by that point, the damage to your liver may already be irreversible. HCV is transmitted through contaminated blood.
About half of people with hepatitis C don’t know they’re infected. Although it might begin as a mild infection, hepatitis C can progressively develop into a chronic disease that leads to life-threatening complications like cirrhosis, liver cancer, and organ failure. There are vaccines for hepatitis A and B, but there is currently no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. Here are some reasons why screening is essential.
Prevent Worse Outcomes
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that over 2.4 million Americans suffer from chronic hepatitis C. It is the leading cause of liver transplants in the US and accounts for 10,000 deaths each year.
The alarming figures associated with the disease emphasize the need for preemptive and regular screenings. Since it usually doesn’t show visible symptoms, the US Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all adults ages 18 to 79 years old be tested for hepatitis C, even if you don’t have any symptoms or known liver disease.
An HCV antibody test is used to confirm whether someone has been infected with the virus by detecting antibodies in the bloodstream. A non-reactive/negative result indicates that you are not currently infected. A reactive/positive result means that you have been infected at one point in time. Following a reactive result, you may need to go through a confirmatory nucleic acid test to check if you have an active infection.
Increase Chances of Eliminating the Virus
It may be possible to clear the hepatitis C virus from your body with a procedure called spontaneous viral clearance if the infection is still in the acute phase. Acute symptoms usually appear one to three months after exposure and last anywhere from two weeks to three months. Here are some signs you should watch out for:
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin)
- Dark urine
- White-colored stool
- Pain in the upper right part of the abdomen
The good news is that acute hepatitis C responds well to antiviral medications, highlighting the importance of early screening and detection. You take a mix of oral medications over 8–12 weeks, then your doctor will do a blood test to check for the virus again. If the virus is still present in your bloodstream, you may need to go through another round of treatment.
Protect the People in Your Household
Since the virus is primarily transmitted through contaminated blood, an infected person may unknowingly spread the disease through personal items like razors and nail clippers. There might also be other items with specks of infected blood too small to be seen by the naked eye.
Pregnant women should get tested for hepatitis C since they can pass the virus on to their babies. The CDC estimates that approximately 6% of infants born to infected mothers get hepatitis C. The following groups are at risk of hepatitis C:
- People that use injection drugs
- People with the HIV infection
- Those born from 1945–1965
- People that received maintenance hemodialysis
- Those who have received transfusions or organ transplants
- Healthcare workers that handle bloodwork
If you fall under these groups, it’s best to go to a doctor to get tested, so your household can take the necessary steps while you undergo treatment. You should also inform your sexual partner since there is a slight risk that the virus may spread through sexual contact.
Hepatitis C Treatment in Carlisle, Pennsylvania
Hepatitis C is a disease that initially has few to no symptoms. However, it may cause irreversible damage to your liver after several years. Early screening can prevent symptoms and death, especially in groups most at risk for the disease.
If you would like to get tested for hepatitis C, visit Carlisle Digestive Associates. Our board-certified gastroenterologists can diagnose and treat a wide range of digestive issues, including hepatitis C. If you have the disease, our team can prescribe oral medications that can help eradicate the virus and reduce the risk of complications. You can rest easy at the hands of our friendly and competent staff who will design a treatment plan that fits your needs.
Call us today at (717) 245-2228, or fill out our online appointment request form. We look forward to serving you and giving you peace of mind about your liver.