Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that causes inflammation (swelling and pain) of the liver.
Symptoms of hepatitis C
When first infected with hepatitis C, many people may not feel ill, while others may find their urine becomes dark and their skin and eyes turn yellow, or they may experience a minor flu-like illness. Within a few weeks, these symptoms may disappear, but this does not necessarily mean that the infection has been cleared. Up to 30 percent of people who have been infected may clear the virus from their blood with no treatment within six months. Even these people no longer have the hepatitis C virus and are not infectious, they will still have hepatitis C antibodies in their blood life-long.
Chronic Hepatitis C
When the initial infection lasts for more than six months, it is called chronic hepatitis C. In many cases, people who have chronic hepatitis C do not feel ill. Chronic hepatitis C most often does not cause any symptoms until many years after infection.
Spread of Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood contact. The most common way people become infected with hepatitis C is by sharing drug-injecting equipment such as syringes, needles, tourniquets, and spoons.
Preventing the spread of Hepatitis C
There is no vaccine available to prevent a person from being infected with hepatitis C. Recommended behaviors to prevent the spread of the virus includes:
- Avoid sharing personal items such as razors, toothbrushes, nail scissors or nail files.
- If you are involved in tattooing, body piercing, acupuncture or electrolysis, always ensure that any instrument that pierces the skin is either ‘single use’ or has been cleaned, disinfected and sterilized since it was last used.
- Health-care workers should follow standard precautions at all times.
- Wherever possible, wear single-use gloves if you give someone first aid or clean up body fluids or blood.
Hepatitis C and injecting drugs
If you inject drugs, never share syringes and needles or other equipment such as spoons, tourniquets, swabs or water. Always use sterile needles and syringes and always wash your hands before and after injecting.
Diagnosis of Hepatitis C
Whether or not you have been infected with hepatitis C, an antibody blood test can tell you. It may take two to three months (or sometimes longer) from the time of infection before a blood test can detect antibodies to hepatitis C.
If you have a positive hepatitis C antibody test, specialized laboratories can do an additional test, to determine if the virus is still present in your blood or liver.
Treatment of Hepatitis C
New combination all oral treatments have greatly improved the outcomes for people with hepatitis C. These treatments help can cure more than 90 percent of individuals with chronic hepatitis C. There are several new tablets that are used in combination to treatment all hepatitis C strains (genotypes). They are effective for people who no liver damage and those who have more advanced liver damage or cirrhosis.