Hepatitis C is a viral infection that affects up to 5 million people in the United States; 75% of these people will develop a chronic infection and be at risk for liver failure and cancer. With new treatment protocols offering the potential of total cure, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommend that all adults born during the period 1945-1965 should receive one time screening (through a simple blood test) for hepatitis C. All patients who test positive should be screened for alcohol use, as well as be referred to a specialist with experience in managing this disease.
Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. In its broadest sense, hepatitis may have multiple causes, ranging from prescription drug related, to toxin exposure (most commonly alcohol), to viruses. In the United States, the most common causes of viral hepatitis are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. The first causes an acute illness, but the latter two are characterized by the potential of chronic liver disease, liver failure and liver cancer.
Hepatitis C is caused by virus spread through exposure to body fluids from an infected individual much in the same way HIV is transmitted—sharing or through unprotected sexual contact. It is NOT spread through hugging, kissing, coughing, sneezing or routine day to day contact. At the time of exposure, most patients either have no symptoms, or experience a non-specific flu-like illness for a few days. However, once exposed and infected, there is roughly a 75% chance of developing a chronic liver infection secondary to ongoing replication of the virus within an increasing number of liver cells.
Most patients have no symptoms of Hepatitis C for years or decades. They are often diagnosed during routine blood work which indicates a level of liver inflammation. When such results are obtained, the next step is the analysis of blood with a specific Hepatitis C blood test.
Without treatment, over years liver damage occurs and results in liver scarring. When the scarring reaches a certain point, liver cirrhosis has set in and symptoms of chronic liver disease manifest-nausea, weight loss, yellow skin (or jaundice) and easy bruising.
Because effective treatment is now available, the CDC now recommends that everyone born between 1945-1965 be screened. Prognosis is much better if the disease is found during the asymptomatic phase, and goal of treatment of Hepatitis C is to prevent further liver damage, and to totally eradicate the virus.
To make an appointment to see a NuHealth specialist in Hepatitis and liver disease, please call 516 486 6862.