What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a human virus spread from person to person through blood only.
You can be at risk of getting Hepatitis C if you:
- Are a injection drug user
- Are a non injection drug user (i.e. snorting cocaine or other drugs)
- Are a recipient of clotting factors made before 1987
- Were or are a hemodialysis patient
- Received blood and/or solid organs before 1992
- Are a person with undiagnosed liver problems
- Were an Infant born to an infected mother
- Work in healthcare and/or public safety
How will I know if I have Hepatitis C?
Most primary care physicians can administer the blood test for Hepatitis C. IT IS ESTIMATED THAT 80% OF PERSONS INFECTED DO NOT SHOW SIGNS OR SYMPTOMS OF HEPATITIS C and may not show for several years so the only way to know whether you are infected is again, to get a blood test. If you are part of the 20% that do show signs or symptoms you would experience one or more of the following:
- Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal swelling
- Loss of appetite
- Dark colored urine
- Light colored feces/stool
- Flu like symptoms:
What kind of long-term effects will Hepatitis C give me?
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 55%-85% of infected persons will experience chronic infection (symptoms lasting six months or longer). They also estimate that 70% of chronically infected persons will develop chronic liver disease. Hepatitis C is the leading indication for a liver transplant in the United States.
What is the treatment for Hepatitis C?
Treatment is available for people experiencing chronic Hepatitis C and is something that needs to be discussed in depth with your physician. Maricopa County Department of Public Health does not provide treatment for Hepatitis C. Not everyone is a good candidate for treatment of this virus, which is why it is really important to establish an honest and open relationship with your physician to discuss whether or not you are eligible for treatment. The most common treatment given is a combination therapy of Interferon injections and taking an oral pill known as Ribavirin. The usual treatment schedule involves injecting interferon one to three times a week, and taking the Ribavirin pills two times per day. Pegylated interferon is a new form of interferon that is injected only once a week. Pegylated interferon treatment is more convenient, is easier to take, and is more effective in some people than regular interferon. The only person who can decide first of all if treatment is right you and if so which interferon is best for you is you and your doctor.
Are there side effects of treatment?
Some people may or may not experience side effects. Some common side effects include:
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle aches
- Difficulty sleeping
A smaller number of patients may experience (BE SURE TO TELL YOUR DOCTOR IF ANY OF THESE SYMPTOMS APPEAR)
- Mental changes
- Hair loss
- Thoughts of suicide or homicide
- Sustained fever (greater than 102 degrees Fairenheit) or other signs of infection
Some strategies for managing side effects may include:
- Drinking 8 to 10 glasses of water each day to avoid dehydration
- Talking to your health care provider about the use of pain relievers (including over-the-counter pain relievers)
- Eating small frequent meals, and avoiding greasy, fatty, and spicy foods
- Getting enough rest by keeping a regular sleep schedule and taking a nap, if necessary
- Using your support systems by talking to family and friends about how you are feeling, or consider joining a support group
How long does treatment last?
A patient can be on treatment anywhere from 6 to 18 months. Your doctor will evaluate you to see if you can be taken off of treatment or if you'll need to continue on with the treatment.
Are there other treatments available?
There are a number of herbal remedies, teas, potions, over-the-counter products, and even acupuncture claiming to be effective in treating liver disease and viral Hepatitis, but none have been adequately studied. The effectiveness and safety of these other treatments is unknown therefore are not recommended. Please talk with your health care provider if considering alternative treatments.
How can I prevent myself from getting Hepatitis C?
- There is no vaccine to prevent Hepatitis C
- Do not shoot or inject drugs. If you do, get into a treatment program. If you cannot stop, never share needles, syringes, water, or works, and get vaccinated for Hepatitis A and B. If you continue to inject drugs please refer to http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/resources/qa/qa26.htm for further information
- Do not share personal care items that may have blood on them like razors, toothbrushes, and nail clippers
- Do not share tattoo or body piercing equipment because these tools may have blood on them
- If you are a non-injection drug user do not share dollar bills or straws used for snorting because these items may have someone else's blood on them
- 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
- Do not have multiple sex partners