Hepatitis C is an acute or chronic viral infection of the liver that causes inflammation and liver damage (fibrosis). It is also known as Hep C or HCV.
How Common Is Hep C?
How Is It Spread?
Health Consequences of Hep C
Why Your Liver Is Important
How Is It Diagnosed?
Can Infection Be Prevented?
What Should You Do Next?
An estimated 3.9 million (1.8%) Americans have been infected with hep C, of whom 2.7 million are chronically infected. There are about 30,000 new infections each year.
Hepatitus C can be spread in a number of ways:
- When blood or body fluids from an infected person enters the body of a person who is not infected.
- Through sharing needles or "works" when "shooting" drugs, through needle sticks or sharps exposures on the job.
- From an infected mother to her baby during birth. About 5 out of every 100 infants born to hep C infected women become infected.
There is no evidence that breast-feeding spreads hepatitis C. HCV-positive mothers should consider abstaining from breast-feeding if their nipples are cracked or bleeding.
- Having injected street drugs, even if you experimented a few times many years ago. Snorting cocaine is also a risk factor if tools or works are shared.
- Having received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July, 1992.
- Having received clotting factor(s) made before 1987.
- Having been notified that you received blood, blood products, or an organ transplant from a donor who later tested positive for hepatitis C.
- Having been on long-term kidney dialysis.
- Evidence of liver disease (e.g., persistently abnormal ALT levels).
- Having been a healthcare worker who had frequent contact with blood on the job, especially accidental needle sticks.
- If your mother had hepatitis C at the time she gave birth to you. During the birth her blood may have gotten into your body.
- Having had sex with a person infected with HCV.
- Having lived with someone who was infected with HCV and shared items such as razors or toothbrushes that might have had his/her blood on them.
- 10-20% of people with Hepatitis C do not have identifiable risk factors.
- 80% of people have no symptoms of hepatitis C
- Jaundice (the skin turns yellow)
- Malaise (general feeling of discomfort)
- Dark urine
- Bowel movements may be gray in color
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Some people recover from the infection and have no long-lasting problems.
- 75-85% of infected persons develop a chronic liver infection, which means that your body does not effectively fight off or get rid of the virus.
- Chronic liver disease causes death in about 3% of people.
- Chronic hepatitis C infection is the leading reason for a liver transplant.
- Chronic hepatitis can lead to cirrhosis of the liver (in about 15% of those infected with hep C). Cirrhosis occurs when the liver cells die and are replaced by scar tissue. The liver stops working and can't cleanse the body of toxins and wastes.
- Cirrhosis can lead to liver failure (the liver stops working) and liver cancer.
The liver has many important functions which can be impaired when liver disease is present. These include:
- Production of bile salts
- Metabolism of hormones
- Metabolism of drugs
- Synthesis of glucose
- Formation of lipoproteins
- Conversion of carbohydrates and proteins to fat
- Deamination of proteins
- Synthesis of cholesterol
- Conversion of ammonia to urea
- Synthesis of blood proteins
- Synthesis of clotting factors
- Storage of glycogen
- Storage of vitamins and minerals
- Filtration and detoxification of blood
- Elimination of bilirubin (a breakdown product of red blood cells).
- History and physical exam
- Complete blood count
- Chemistry Panel
- Tests for iron status (Ferritin, TIBC, percent saturation)
- Liver function tests aid in the diagnosis of HCV. ALT or AST levels may be elevated. These tests will be followed up with more specific testing for Hepatitis.
- Albumin, bilirubin, and PTT may also be used to assess general liver function.
- There are lab tests (enzyme immunoassay) to detect antibodies to the Hepatitis C virus, but it can take 4 weeks to a year for these antibodies to develop.
- There are lab tests which test for the presence of viral particles from the Hepatitis C virus (qualitative HCV RNA). These may detect virus in people who have not yet developed antibodies.
- Once an infection is confirmed, tests for “viral load” or the amount of virus in your blood may be performed (quantitative HCV RNA).
- Viral genotyping may be performed. This tells which subtype of the virus you have, and can be helpful in determining conventional treatment.
- Liver biopsy may be performed to assess the degree of disease activity and the likelihood of progression. Cirrhosis and cancer can be determined by liver biopsy.
- Verification of immune status to Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B viruses.
- People with chronic hepatitis C often have autoantibodies such as RA, ANA, and anti-thyroglobulin. Your doctor may check these if you have certain symptoms.
- There is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C.
- Do not shoot drugs; if you shoot drugs, stop and get into a treatment program; if you can't stop, never share needles, syringes, water, or "works", and get vaccinated against hepatitis A & B.
- Do not share personal care items that might have blood on them (razors, toothbrushes).
- If you are a health care or public safety worker, always follow routine barrier precautions and safely handle needles and other sharps; get vaccinated against hepatitis B.
- Consider the risks if you are thinking about getting a tattoo or body piercing. You might get infected if the tools have someone else's blood on them or if the artist or piercer does not follow good health practices.
- Hep C can be spread by sex, but this is rare. If you are having sex with more than one steady sex partner, use latex condoms correctly and every time to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. You should also get vaccinated against hepatitis B. If you are HCV positive, do not donate blood, organs, or tissue.
The doctors at The Connecticut Center for Health are experienced in the treatment of hepatitis C. Treatment for hepatitis C is not one size fits all. We have outlined a sample treatment protocol, but we have other treatment protocols that may be equally effective.
If you have (or suspect you have) hepatitis C symptoms and want to learn more about natural treatments for this condition, we recommend that you contact one of our clinics for a free consultation about hepatitis C or an appointment.