Frequently asked Questions About Chronic Hepatitis C

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT CHRONIC HEPATITIS CBY VERA SIMON, R.N., M.Sc.N.

(1) WHAT IS HEPATITIS C?

Hepatitis C is a viral illness that affects the liver. In 1990 an antibody to the hepatitis C virus was identified but before that the illness was known as “non-A, non-B hepatitis”.

(2) WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ACUTE AND CHRONIC HEPATITIS C?

The term acute means that the virus has been present in the blood for less than six months. The term chronic means that a person has had the illness for more than six (6) months. The differences between the two stages of treatment are in the dosage and length of time of treatment. If a patient has chronic HCV the virus will probably be with them throughout their life.

(3) HOW DO I GET HEPATITIS C?

Hepatitis C is spread by blood-to-blood contact. Therefore, anyway that one person’s blood may be in contact with an infected person’s blood will spread the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Some of the most common ways of spreading the virus are: transfusion of blood products, intravenous drug use, tattooing, body piercing, sharing needles. The risk of transmitting HCV through transfusions of blood products has decreased significantly since all blood donors are now screened for hepatitis C.

(4) WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF HEPATITIS C?

Most people who have HCV do not know that they have the illness. Most are free of any symptoms. Interestingly, in many people the presence of the symptoms does not bear a direct relationship with the extent of the disease. In other words, someone with very mild HCV may have many of the symptoms, while another person who has much more advanced disease does not have any symptoms. It is very individual. Some of the more common symptoms of HCV include: extreme tiredness, itch, joint pain.

(5) HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE HEPATITIS C?

Usually people with HCV are found because the liver enzymes in their blood are above normal limits, and their doctors do more blood tests to find the cause. Others are found through testing positive while donating blood or because their doctor identified risk factors and requested the blood test.

(6) WHAT ARE LIVER ENZYMES?

Liver enzymes are proteins produced by the liver. Everyone has a low level in their blood but when the liver is injured in any way more liver enzymes are released into the bloodstream. Elevated liver enzymes are a red flag to doctors to investigate the cause of this increase. The two most common liver enzymes that doctors check are the ALT( SGPT) and AST(SGOT).

(7) HOW CAN I PREVENT GIVING THIS INFECTION TO SOMEONE ELSE?

There is no need for anyone with HCV to be socially isolated. Because HCV is spread through blood-to-blood contact people with HCV should take some precautions. They include: – do not donate blood – let anyone who is contact with your blood know that you are HCV positive.
This includes dentists, blood technicians, nurses.
– Do not share razors or toothbrushes.
– Do not share needles or other equipment if you are using intravenous drugs.

(8) SHOULD MY FAMILY BE TESTED FOR HCV?

Ask your doctor. The likelihood is small that HCV was spread to a family member. Treatment is not generally used for children with HCV. Testing may ease a person’s concern if family members are tested.

(9) AM I GOING TO DIE IF I HEPATITIS C?

Most people who have HCV have a normal life span. However, there is still much information to be learned about HCV. In approximately 10% of people with chronic HCV, or, 10 people in 100 with HCV, their disease will gradually progress over 10 to 30 years to develop scarring, or cirrhosis of the liver. In a small number of these people HCV can lead to cancer of the liver and/or death.

(10) WHAT SHOULD I EAT IF I HAVE HEPATITIS C?

People diagnosed with HCV can eat anything they want. The only recommendation is that they eat nutritiously. Avoidance of drinking alcohol in any form is recommended because studies have shown that the hepatitis C virus infection progresses more rapidly in people who drink alcohol. Some doctors believe that having no alcohol may stop HCV from progressing at all.

(11) IS THERE A TREATMENT FOR HEPATITIS C?

Treatment for HCV varies depending upon the extent of a person’s disease. Sometimes lifestyle changes such as stopping drinking alcohol is sufficient. For some people with more active disease doctors may recommend treatment with alpha-interferon alone or a combination of alpha interferon and Ribavirin.

(12) CAN I GIVE MY SEXUAL PARTNER HEPATITIS C?

Because hepatitis C is spread through blood the likelihood of spreading it to your sexual partner is low. However, menstrual blood can contain the virus. It is recommended that a person who has multiple sex partners practices “safe sex”.

(13) CAN I GIVE HEPATITIS C TO MY CHILD WHILE I AM PREGNANT OR BREAST FEEDING?

It is very unlikely that pregnant women with HCV can transmit the virus to their baby either in the womb or at childbirth. At the present time it is not known whether HCV can be spread from a mother to her baby through breast milk. However, the likelihood is very small and some liver specialists recommend that mothers if they want, breast feed their babies.

(14) CAN I GET A VACCINE FOR HEPATITIS C?

Presently there is no vaccine for HCV. Recent studies show that people with HVC become much sicker and their liver becomes much more damaged if they develop another form of viral hepatitis. Doctors are now recommending that people with HCV receive the hepatitis A and/or the hepatitis B vaccine(s) if they have not been exposed to one, the other or both. That means if a person with HCV is immune to hepatitis B but not to hepatitis A then he/she should get the hepatitis A vaccine. If they are not immune to either than they should receive both the hepatitis A and B vaccine. There is a combination hepatitis A and B vaccine available. Checking for immunity involves a simple blood test.

(15) HOW SHOULD I DEAL WITH PEOPLE WHO AVOID ME BECAUSE I HAVE HEPATITIS C?

People who do not know very much about HCV may avoid people HCV. Mainly they are afraid they might “catch” the virus from you. If they are acting this way you may try to explain about HCV. If this does not work you may try to teach them more by giving them pamphlets or other written information about HCV.

Sharing is caring!

Leave a Comment