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What is HepC?

Would you believe that the virus of Hepatitis c was discovered in 1989. The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is the most common cause of chronic liver disease in the United States with prevalence of Hepatitis C virus increasing worldwide.

According to the World Health Organization, about 130–170 million people are chronically infected with the Hepatitis C virus, with more than             350,000 people dying from Hepatitis C-related liver diseases each year. If left untreated, Hepatitis C can lead to liver cancer, liver damage and ultimately liver failure. Which is why everyone, I say everyone should be tested. It is unfortunate that this simple blood test is not considered in the CBC “complete blood count” that our Doctor sends us upon looking for some illness the patient may have contracted.

What Causes Hepatitis C?

      Hepatitis C is transmitted by infectious blood. Which means the infected blood must be absorbed through the skin and enter the bloodstream of another person – in other words, blood-to-blood. Hepatitis C is approximately seven times more infectious than HIV. You should also know that the blood from Red Cross was not screened until 1992. This is why it is so important to get tested. Do you remember in schools when we got vaccinated, one after the other with punch needles… anyone could have hepatitis c, anyone.

 

      Hepatitis C is most commonly transmitted in the following manner:

 

      Organ Transplants (before 1992)

 

      Hemodialysis (before 1990)

 

      Healthcare and Occupational Exposure (needle-stick injuries)

 

      Intranasal Drug Use (snorting drugs through a straw)

 

      Tattooing and Body Piercing

 

      Birth to an HCV infected mother

 

      Intravenous drug use (injection) – if the IV users, use the same needle, chance are that one

 

      is infected, then you up your chance at contracting the virus.

 

      Sexual Contact… only if both partners have a open wound and bleeding.

 

      Contact (sharing of personal items such as razors, toothbrushes, scissors and manicuring equipment within the same household)

 

      Medical Procedures

 

      Dirty tools used in Hospitals, & Dentist offices, Spas, manicures…

 

      Hepatitis C is not transmitted by casual contact like hugging or kissing, nor is it transmitted through breast milk (unless the mother’s nipples are cracked or bleeding), food, water or sharing food or water with an infected person.

 

      What are the Signs and Symptoms of Hepatitis C?

 

      There are two types of Hepatitis C – acute (brief and severe) and chronic (having long duration). Individuals with acute Hepatitis C usually do not manifest symptoms and the small percentage that do (25 to 35 percent) will experience symptoms similar to the other cases of acute hepatitis, including flu-like symptoms, joint aches or mild skin rash. Individuals that are particularly likely to experience a severe course of Hepatitis C are those individuals that already have Hepatitis B and become infected with acute Hepatitis C.

 

      Other symptoms which may be experienced by individuals with acute Hepatitis C are:

 

      Loss of appetite

 

      Abdominal pain

 

      Dark urine

 

      Grey colored stool

 

      Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)

 

      As is the case for acute Hepatitis C, most people who have chronic Hepatitis C do not experience symptoms in the early stages or even in the advanced stages of the disease. Therefore, it is not uncommon to find out, by surprise, that one has the virus when donating blood or during a routine blood examination. It is possible to have Hepatitis C for many years and not know it which is the reason why the disease has been referred to as a silent killer. Which is why the person should get tested.

 

      If symptoms do occur, they will most likely exhibit as:

 

      Pain and tenderness in the area of the liver

 

      Fever

 

      Joint and muscle pain

 

      Decreased appetite

 

      Weight loss

 

      Depression

 

      Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)

 

      Extreme Fatigue

 

      In those persons who do develop symptoms, the average time period from exposure to symptom onset is 4–12 weeks (range: 2–24 weeks).

 

      Chronic Hepatitis C may cause signs and symptoms which manifest in other organs beside the liver as the result of the immune system’s effort to fight off the Hepatitis C infection. In some cases of Hepatitis C, the kidneys can be damaged because of a condition known as cryoglobulinemia.

 

      Cryoglobulinemia is the presence of abnormal proteins in the blood called cryoglobulins. Cryoglobulins is a term for proteins in the blood that become solid at low temperatures. When cryoblobulins thicken or become gel-like, they block blood vessels throughout the body which may lead to complications ranging from skin rashes to kidney failure.

 

      Chronic Hepatitis Symptoms

 

      Anxiety

 

      Arthritis

 

      Ascites (swelling in the stomach area)

 

      Blurred Vision

 

      Chills

 

      Dark Urine

 

      Decline in sex drive

 

      Depression

 

      Dizziness

 

      Dry Skin

 

      Edema (swelling of the hands, feet & legs)

 

      Excessive Bleeding

 

      Excessive gas

 

      Eye or eyesight problems (blurred vision or dry eyes)

 

      Fatigue

 

      Fever

 

      Flu-like symptoms

 

      Gallstones

 

      Gray, yellow, white or light colored stools

 

      Headaches

 

      Hepatalgia (pain or discomfort in liver area)

 

      Hot flashes

 

      Indigestion

 

      Inflammation in the joints

 

      Insomnia

 

      Irritability

 

      Itching

 

      Jaundice (yellowing of eyes and/or skin)

 

      Joint pain

 

      Mood changes or swings

 

      Memory loss, mental confusion

 

      Menstrual problems

 

      Muscle aches

 

      Nausea

 

      Rashes/Red spots

 

      Red palms

 

      Sensitivity to heat or cold

 

      Sleep disturbances

 

      Slow healing and recovery

 

      Susceptibility to illness/flu

 

      Sweating

 

      Vertigo

 

      Vomiting

 

      Water retention

 

      Weakness

 

      Weight gain

 

      Weight loss

 

      What is the Conventional Medical Treatment for Hepatitis C?

 

      Not all people who have been diagnosed with Hepatitis C need treatment, especially in the case of acute Hepatitis. Medication may be prescribed, however, bed rest, drinking plenty of fluids, avoidance of alcohol and eating a healthy diet will be recommended by the doctor. It is important to work closely with one’s doctor and follow up with tests to make sure the virus has cleared the body.

 

      Some people won’t be treated because they don’t know they have the Hepatitis C virus.

 

      Once in the bloodstream, interferon interferes with the Hepatitis C virus’ ability to replicate. In addition, interferon appears to build up the immune system’s disease fighting T helper-1 cells so that they are strong enough to kill off the Hepatitis C viruses.

 

      Individuals who have been diagnosed with chronic Hepatitis C will probably be treated with interferon combination therapy or interferon monotherapy. The monotherapy only consists of interferon, while combination therapy combines interferon with ribavarin. Combination therapy is the treatment of choice. However, some people will still receive monotherapy due to intolerance to ribavirin.

 

      What is the roll of the ribavirin: the pills in the combo or other treatments for Hepatitis c are designed to weaken the immune system, this gives a chance for the weekly Interferon shot to by pass the immune system, in order to go directly kill the infected cells. The ribavirin will make you weak and give you the flu like symptoms. The Interferon shot will give you side effects for 32 to 48 hours, then one more week of ribavirin, then shot…. ect…

 

      The type of treatment as well as the length of treatment for Hepatitis C depends on the genotype of the virus. For example: if the patient is genotype 1a, then he or she will have to entertain a treatment of 48 weeks. If a patient has the genotype 2,3,4 then the treatment will be for 24 weeks.

 

      People with genotype 1 have a lower rate of response to combination therapy being the hardest genotype to clear as for the other genotypes they have a percentage of 80% clearance.

 

      Types of interferon used in the treatment of Hepatitis C include:

 

      My husband Richard was on the Alpha Interferon – the standard treatment for management of acute and chronic Hepatitis C

 

      Consensus Interferon – a synthetic form of interferon

 

      I was on the Pegylated Interferon – a long-acting, time-release form of interferon

 

      Both my husband and I were genotype 1a, we both cleared the virus, and have been cleared since over a decade.

 

      There is hope out there, if only everyone would get tested.

 

      Side effects from interferon can be unpleasant and sometimes serious, leading to dose reduction or discontinuation of treatment. All side effects should be reported to one’s doctor right away for management of symptoms and to prevent serious complications from occurring.

 

      Not all people experience the same side effects, nor are all side effects necessarily severe. Some people experience few or no side effects at all. Having a good support system in place prior to starting treatment will help in managing side effects whether few or many. Family, friends, and support groups can be helpful to most people during difficult times while undergoing Hepatitis C treatment.

 

      Side effects from interferon may include:

 

      Persistent flu-like symptoms (including body aches and headaches)

 

      Nausea

 

      Fatigue

 

      Loss of appetite

 

      Diarrhea

 

      Insomnia

 

      Mental and psychiatric symptoms, including depression, irritability, anxiety, mania and trouble concentrating

 

      Bone marrow suppression

 

      Anemia

 

      Dehydration

 

      Mouth sores

 

      Changes in the way food and beverages taste

 

      Skin rashes and itching

 

      Dry, brittle nails

 

      Injection site reactions (pain, irritation, swelling or infection)

 

      Hair loss

 

      Vision or eye problems (rare but can be serious)

 

      Libido changes (decreased interest in sex)

 

      Menstrual and menopausal changes

 

      Ribavirin can cause birth defects so it is important for both men and women to use an effective form of contraception.

 

      According to some research I have read, in May 13, 2011, the U.S. FDA approved two prescription medications Victrelis™ (boceprevir) and Incivek™ (telaprevir) for use in combination with peginterferon alfa and ribavirin to treat chronic Hepatitis C genotype 1 infection in those who have not been treated before or who have failed previous Hepatitis C treatment.

 

      There are contraindications with regard to both Victrelis™ and Incivek™ which should be discussed thoroughly with one’s doctor as should all treatment options.

 

      It is important to note that not all people are candidates for antiviral drug treatment. Antiviral drug treatment for Hepatitis C may not be recommended for the following:

 

      People who use intravenous drugs

 

      People who drink alcohol

 

      People who have advanced cirrhosis of the liver (unless your Liver Doctor thinks your liver

 

      can take the treatment)

 

      People who have received a kidney or heart transplant, since treatment will increase risk of rejection of the organ

 

      People with liver cancer

 

      Men and women who are planning to conceive a child and women who are pregnant

 

      People who are severely depressed and/or have mental health issues because antiviral medications used to treat Hepatitis C can make those issues worse

 

      People who have an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or psoriasis

 

      People with advanced heart disease or diabetes

 

      People with normal aminotransferase levels (ALT less than 30 independent units per milliliter)

 

    Finally, if the liver is severely damaged, a liver transplant may be recommended. End-stage liver disease (cirrhosis) due to chronic Hepatitis C viral infection is the number one reason for liver transplantation in the United States. During the transplant procedure, the diseased liver will be replaced with a healthy liver from an organ donor or from a live donor who donates a portion of their healthy liver. However, contrary to popular misconception, a liver transplant is not a cure for Hepatitis C. Unfortunately, the Hepatitis C virus recurs in the new liver in almost all cases, with fibrosis (scarring of the liver) or cirrhosis occurring in 10% to 30% of patients in as little as 5 years after the transplant.

 

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