Hepatitis C is an infection caused by a virus that attacks the liver. Most cases of hepatitis C do not produce any symptoms, so most people aren’t even aware they have the infection until liver damage shows up during a routine medical exam. Hepatitis viruses are spread through direct contact with contaminated blood, so the most common way to become infected is by sharing needles used for drugs.
There are two different types of hepatitis C: acute and chronic. According to the CDC, up to 25% of all people who contract the hepatitis C virus have an acute, short-term infection that will usually go away without any treatment at all. It is only chronic hepatitis C that requires treatment. The sooner you are diagnosed with hepatitis C, the more likely your treatment plan will be successful. Here are some of the most common treatment options.
The first line of treatment for chronic hepatitis C is usually antiviral medications to completely clear the virus from your body. In the past, the problem with these medications was that the treatment regimen lasted 24 to 72 weeks and had the potential to create serious side effects, such as depression, flu-like symptoms, and loss of healthy red or white blood cells. Because of this, many people would not follow through to the end of their plan.
However, in more recent years, significant advancements have been made for treating hepatitis C with new antiviral medications. These new medications lead to better outcomes, shorter treatment times (12 weeks), and fewer side effects. Deciding which medication will work best for you will depend on which strain of hepatitis C you have, other medical conditions you have, and other treatments you have tried in the past.
Because of the risk of complications, your doctor will closely monitor how your body responds to the medications throughout the course of treatment.
If your liver has been damaged before diagnosis, then you may need a liver transplant. However, liver transplants are not a cure for hepatitis C, since the infection will likely return. Because of this, you will still need to continue taking antiviral medications after the liver transplant is complete.
There is currently no vaccination for hepatitis C. However, your doctor may recommend that you become vaccinated against hepatitis A and hepatitis B. This is because if you have hepatitis C and become infected with these viruses, they could cause further damage to your liver and negatively impact your treatment plan.
Besides receiving medical treatment for hepatitis C, you will also need to make certain lifestyle changes to stay as healthy as possible. These include:
- Abstaining from alcohol, as this increases the progression of liver disease
- Avoiding certain medications that may cause liver damage
- Preventing others from coming into contact with your blood by keeping wounds covered, not sharing personal items such as razors or toothbrushes, and not donating blood or organs.