Educational Articles

Hepatitis C

Chronic Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is one of the most common causes of chronic viral infection. It is estimated that about 1-2% of U.S. population suffer from this illness. It is one of the most important causes of chronic liver diseases including cirrhosis and liver cancer. In fact, hepatitis C is the leading indication for performing liver transplant in this country.

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Hepatitis C virus is transmitted through blood products. As a result, hepatitis C is contracted from contaminated blood, needles, or IV drugs. However, it is not transmitted by casual physical contact, or from food source. In addition, unlike hepatitis B, hepatitis C is rarely trasmitted from sexual contact. Unfortunately, there is no effective form of vaccination for hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C is defined as chronic, when the infection lasts longer than 6 months in duration. Many patients with chronic hepatitis C infection may not be aware of their illness, because there may be very few symptoms associated with the disease. However, as the disease advances, many begin to complain of persistent and chronic fatigue. Some may complain of anorexia, nausea, and weight loss. As the disease advances further, there may be symptoms such as yellowing of the skin, vomiting of blood, fluid in the abdomen, and altered level of consciousness and confusion. In fact, the most worrisome complication of chronic hepatitis C is the development of cirrhosis or the hardening of liver, and liver cancer, known as hepatoma.

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The diagnosis of hepatitis C is made based on blood tests. The initial tests obtained to diagnose hepatitis C include hepatitis C antibody, and liver function test. If hepatitis C antibody is present, hepatitis C RNA test can confirm the diagnosis of hepatitis C. For confirmed cases of hepatitis C, additional tests that are often obtained include hepatitis C genotype, alpha-feto-protein (AFP), a marker for liver cancer, and sonogram of the liver. Additionally, a biopsy of the liver is obtained to further characterize the overall condition of the liver.

The current treatment options for hepatitis C is rapidly evolving. Currently available treatments include ribavirin, PEG-interferon, and protease inhibitor such as telaprevir and boceprevir. For patients with genotype 1 hepatitis C, a triple combination of ribavirin, interferon, and protease inhibitor are given for 6-12 months. They can expect approximately 70% cure rate. On the other hand, patients with genotype 2 and 3 are treated for 6 months with a dual regimen of interferon and ribavirin. They have a higher cure rate of 80-90%.

Chronic hepatitis C is a very serious condition. For individuals with this illness, it is very important that they undergo a regular check-up including periodic liver function test, AFP determination, and sonogram. It is also advisable to avoid alcohol, and any unnecessary medication. For individuals with active viral replication, the treatment with anti-viral drugs is recommended to prevent potential complications including cirrhosis and hepatoma.

 

 

 

 

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