How Do You Get Hepatitis C?
The saying ‘prevention is better than cure’ may have contributed directly to the idea of preventive measures against all types of diseases that afflict us all. It makes good sense in terms of conserving time, energy and use of medical resources for public health. More importantly, it stops people from asking themselves the question: How do you get Hepatitis C?
Tests that unravel many unknowns
The trouble with Hepatitis C is that it’s difficult to detect because it has no symptoms and while you may look perfectly healthy you can still be infected with the disease. The only way you can ascertain for sure whether or not you are infected is to have tests carried out on you by a doctor.
Who to test
Typically, there are groups of people in different parts of the world today who are more susceptible to hepatitis C infection as indicated in the bulleted list below:
- People who once used drugs, those now using them and drug injection users.
- Health workers who may unknowingly get infected by being exposed to the virus
- Children and newborn babies born to mothers infected with hepatitis C
- Organ recipients during transplants in the UK before 1992
- People living in high-risk areas of Africa, the Middle East, central and east Asia
- People in the UK who received blood transfusions prior to September 1991
- Individuals tattooed with carelessly sterilized piercing tools
- Sexual partners with one partner infected with hepatitis C
- People with hemophilia who were subjected to clotting treatment before 1987
- Anyone who practiced inhaling of banned drugs
- Those who had been given prolonged hemodialysis treatment
- People infected with HIV
- Those born between 1945 to 1965
- People who were once prison inmates.
Hepatitis C testing methods
The diagnosis for hepatitis C usually involves 2 blood tests known as the antibody test and the PCR test and results are normally available in two weeks.
This test is used to ascertain whether or not antibodies of the hepatitis C virus have ever been present in your blood. The antibodies are generated by your immune system to fight germs in your body.
The test involves you being injected with the Hep C virus so that your immune system is activated to produce antibodies in order to attack and eliminate the virus from your body.
Once produced the virus not only starts attacking the virus, but also lets testers know that the Hep C virus was once present in your body.
It takes several months for your immune system to produce the antibodies needed to confront and nullify the actions of the Hep C virus and to set you free from further harm from the virus.
This second blood test is known as the PRC test and is the only way to inform you whether or not you are currently infected with the Hep C virus. The test can find out whether the virus is propagating inside your body.
It’s an invaluable test because when the result is positive it means that the virus has progressed in your body over time and has infected a large part of your body and has reached a long term or chronic phase of development.
Liver damage tests
A chronic phase will necessitate referral of your condition to a specialist who will conduct further tests to determine whether or not your liver has sustained any damage. The additional tests normally take two forms:
- Blood tests – these tests determine the quantity of enzymes and proteins that exist in your blood stream which usually indicate the level of damage or inflammation being suffered by your liver.
- Ultrasound scans – also known as magnetic resonance magnetic resonance elastography these scanning tests involve using sound waves that bounce back from the liver after testing the stiffness of the liver. Stiffness of the liver indicates that the liver has been damaged or scarred. Information on the level of liver stiffness is viewed on a visual map of gradients showing stiffness.
- Transient elastography – a noninvasive test that scans the liver using ultrasound as in the previous test but this time not for information off the liver surface but within the liver itself. This process involves ultrasound transmissions into the liver itself to measure the speed of their dispersal
- Liver biopsy – this test involves the insertion of a thin needle guided by ultrasound through the abdominal wall to remove liver tissue for testing in a laboratory.
- Blood tests – other blood tests may be carried out to determine the extent of liver fibrosis.
Treatment for Hepatitis C
Following the above tests for diagnosing Hep C and providing clearer understanding of the patient’s condition, treatment may now proceed for curing the disease using the following methods.
Antiviral medications are used to clear the virus from a patient’s body with the ultimate goal of clearing all trace of the Hep C virus found to be in your body in a period of 12 weeks minimum after the treatment is completed.
New treatment methods for the Hep C virus have been developed in combination with other antiviral medication to produce highly active or direct acting medications. These novel medications give people a new experience and confidence in medical progress with curing time now shortened to only 8 weeks.
Nevertheless, other constraining factors remain such as the type of Hep C infection, liver damage level, other conditions and previous treatments given.
Transplanting may be the only option open to anyone who develops chronic Hep C infection of the liver. The transplanting involves the replacement of the damaged liver by a new and healthy liver.
Replacement livers usually come from those who have died but in some instances, some living donors donate a part of their livers.
There are no specific vaccinations for the Hep C virus but there are vaccines against hepatitis A and B viruses which the doctor will recommend for you to receive. These different viruses can also cause damage to the liver and can also complicate the progress of chronic hepatitis C.
Lifestyle and Home treatments
Doctors treating Hep C virus will normally suggest certain changes in lifestyles for people who have been diagnosed with hepatitis C. The three main ones are listed below:
- Alcoholic consumption – An infected person should stop his/her alcohol consumption as it hastens liver disease.
- Medications – those infected should discuss the whole range of medications taken including over-the-counter medications, herbal and dietary supplements. Based on these disclosures, the doctor may suggest alternative medications which you should follow.
- Blood contact – if you’ve been diagnosed with the Hep C virus avoid situations where your blood can come into contact with others. Don’t share toothbrushes or razors with others, no blood donations, organs or semen and tell healthcare providers that you are infected. Avoid sexual encounters or take the necessary precautions.
Find out more information on how hepatitis C is treated, here
Asking yourself the question, how do you get Hepatitis C is not as silly as you might think. In fact it means you are worried about being infected with is good and that you want to know more. It is our hope that in this series on the liver disease, you’ll find answers to your questions that’ll help you lead a comfortable and healthy life.