5 Frequently Asked Questions about Hepatitis C

Symptoms

Caused by a virus that infects the liver and spreads through the blood, hepatitis C has been known to affect approximately 3 million people in the country as per studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, nearly 75% of the affected people are unaware of the presence of hepatitis C virus in their body. A virus can be present for years or decades before any symptoms become evident. This is the reason why hepatitis C is also known as the “silent killer.”

Since the virus remains undetected for a long time, the disease is often diagnosed at a late advanced stage. The CDC estimates that nearly 15,000 of people die every year due to liver disease related to hepatitis C. This mortality rate due to hepatitis C is more than that of HIV. Here are some common hepatitis C FAQs.

What does hepatitis mean?
This is a common hepatitis C FAQ as many aren’t aware of what hepatitis C is. The inflammation of the liver is called as hepatitis. Hepatitis can be caused by viral or bacterial infection, excess consumption of alcohol, exposure to toxins, and certain medications. The group of viral infections that damage the liver is known as hepatitis. Hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are the common types of hepatitis. Each of these types of hepatitis is caused by different factors, and each of these has different symptoms.

What is the difference between hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C?

  • Hepatitis A: Hepatitis A is caused by the consumption of contaminated food, specifically food contaminated by raw shellfish and fecal matter. There is no permanent liver damage caused by hepatitis A, and there is no occurrence of chronic disease. Once diagnosed and treated, recovering from hepatitis A is possible in three to six weeks.
  • Hepatitis B: Hepatitis B spreads through body fluids such as blood and saliva. It is quite rare in the country. Only 5% of the population is affected by hepatitis B. Jaundice is one of the common side effects of hepatitis B.
  • Hepatitis C: Hepatitis C is caused by a blood-borne virus. One of the common ways of getting infected with hepatitis C virus is by exposure to small amounts of infected blood. This can happen due to drug use, unsafe injection use, lack of health care, transfusion of blood or blood products that have not been screened or tested properly.

What is the difference between acute and chronic hepatitis C?
This is one of the common hepatitis C FAQs. Acute hepatitis C is when the infection is in its initial phase, that is after the first six months of exposure to the virus. The severity can vary from mild sickness with a few or no symptoms to serious illness requiring immediate medical attention. The acute form of this hepatitis causes illnesses that are short-term. In 15 to 25% of the cases, the virus is cleared from the body without any treatment. The reason for this is not known. In a majority of the cases, the acute form of the disease develops into chronic hepatitis C.

Chronic hepatitis C develops from acute hepatitis C. It is a long-term illness that can last a lifetime. It leads to liver cancer or liver cirrhosis. In about 60 to 70 cases among 100, chronic hepatitis C causes liver cirrhosis.

What are the common symptoms of hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is diagnosed late because the initial signs and symptoms of this disease are quite similar to those of other ailments such as flu, common cold, and diarrhea. The occurrence of these symptoms is erratic, which makes diagnosis more difficult.

The early symptoms of hepatitis in the acute stage are a persistent feeling of tiredness and fatigue, diminishing appetite, periodic fever, pain in the upper abdomen, nausea and occasional vomiting. These symptoms will surface within the first three months of contracting the virus and persist for two to twelve weeks. It might happen that these symptoms go away and the hepatitis C does not progress further.

In case, the acute hepatitis C progresses to the chronic stage, symptoms such as dark urine, light stool, diarrhea, and jaundice may occur. There can be chronic joint and muscle pain as well. Other symptoms include susceptibility to bleeding and bruising, itchy skin, a buildup of fluid in the abdomen, swollen legs, sudden weight loss, slurred speech, drowsiness, and the appearance of spider-like blood vessels on the skin.

What blood tests help to detect hepatitis C?
There are two screening tests to diagnosis the presence of hepatitis C virus. The first blood test checks whether the person has hepatitis C earlier. This is known as the Hep C Antibody test. The second test checks whether the hepatitis C virus has invaded the person’s immune system now. This test is called as the Hep C RNA qualitative test. There is another test called as the Hep C RNA quantitative test that tests the amount of hepatitis C virus present in the body.

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