How Can I be Infected? with Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is a contagious disease and is commonly spread by contact with the blood of an infected person. This can be through open wounds and sores, blood transfusions, sharing cutting equipment and syringes with an infected person. It may occasionally be passed through unprotected sex where there is an exchange of bodily fluids such as semen and vaginal fluid.
Symptoms of Hepatitis C can occur 15 to 150 days after contact with the virus. This is known as the incubation period. The symptoms of acute infection may be mild and non-specific in most people. Approximately 85% of those infected with Hepatitis C (HCV) virus will develop into chronic hepatitis.
Patients are usually diagnosed incidentally during their routine medical check-ups, when their liver enzymes are abnormal or they present with complications. Therefore, at-risk individuals should be screened for Hepatitis C.
Common symptoms of Hepatitis C include:
- Itchy skin
- Swollen ankles
In severe cases, the symptoms are usually those resulting from liver failure, requiring hospitalisation.
Individual at Risk
These individuals have a higher risk of being infected with Hepatitis C:
- Those who share cutting equipment with an infected person, such as shaving razors, toothbrush, nail clipper
- Those who are accidentally exposed to the infected blood amongst healthcare or waste disposal workers
- I/V drug abusers who share needles
- Those who use contaminated instruments,inacupuncture, body-piercing and tattooing parlours
- Those who are infected with Hepatitis C and pregnant (the baby can be infected during childbirth)
- Those who have unprotected sex with an infected person
- Recipients of clotting factors made before 1987
- Recipients of blood transfusions or organ transplants before 1992
- Those who have been on long-term liver dialysis
How is Hepatitis C Diagnosis
A blood test can diagnose Hepatitis C infection. However, the blood test for Hepatitis C is not part of the regular routine; unless you specifically asks for it, the infection can remain in the liver undiagnosed for a long time until severe symptoms show up.
Some only discover that they are infected when they donate blood, as all blood donations are screened thoroughly for HCV. Others learn that they have Hepatitis C when they have to undergo a series of blood tests for other medical problems. An abnormal level of liver enzymes is the foremost indicator that one’s liver may be infected or damaged.
You should be treated by the doctor as chronic Hepatitis C can lead to liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver failure, liver cancer and death.
How is Hepatitis C Treated?
Chronic cases of Hepatitis C – The medications for hepatitis C treatment are evolving rapidly with excellent results for patients. The types of treatment are based on the hepatitis C genotype. Most involve oralmedications taken for a period of 12 to 24 weeks. The side effects are minimal compared to the previous treatment involving interferon injection. The success rates for the new treatment regiments are very good. Please consult your doctor for a more detailed discussion about available treatment options.
During regular check-ups, ask your doctor to run a series of blood tests to check on the level of the Hepatitis C virus in your blood stream, and/or if anti-viral medication is needed, and to recommend the appropriate treatment.
Do’s and Don’ts
- Get vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B
- Consult a liver specialist
- Practise safe sex using condoms and inform your partner so that he/she can be tested and/or be immunised
- Cover up all open sores and wounds
- Monitor your liver health and visit your doctor at least once a year to check on the progression of the disease
- Inform your doctors and dentists that you are a carrier of the Hepatitis C virus during routine visits/check-ups
- Be informed about research developments regarding Hepatitis C treatments to help you make the best decisions
- Drink alcohol, as this may further damage your liver
- Take certain prescribed, over-the-counter medications or herbal supplements without your doctor’s knowledge
- Share your toothbrush, razors, nail clippers, syringes, etc. with others
- Donate blood, plasma, organs, sperms or tissues