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Hepatitis C: A Silent Invader

North Texas Liver Disease Treatment

While there are several types of Hepatitis, Hepatitis C is by far one of the most well-known forms of the disease. Even here in North Texas, Hepatitis C is all too common. Now, The Methodist Transplant Specialists is here to help! In this continuation of our liver disease series, we provide essential information to help patients throughout North Texas understand Hepatitis C including how it is contracted and treated.

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C, or HCV, is a virus that affects the liver, causing it to swell. This inflammation prevents normal liver function and may cause severe liver damage over time.

How Can I Get Hepatitis C?

Simply put, Hepatitis C is spread through contact with infected blood. It is most commonly spread through the sharing of needles, usually for drug use. However, Hepatitis C may also be spread through tattooing and piercing when proper infection control methods are not used.

In the U.S., it is now uncommon for Hepatitis C to be spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants as all donations are tested prior to acceptance.

How Do I Know If I Have Hepatitis C?

There are two phases of Hepatitis C once it is contracted: acute and chronic. With acute Hepatitis C, symptoms usually appear within two weeks to six months. However, some people may show no symptoms at all. For those who do, they would experience flu-like symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
  • Stomach pain
  • Body aches
  • Joint pain
  • Itchy skin
  • Dark urine

Once the Hepatitis C virus has been in the body for six months or more, it is then considered chronic. It is not uncommon for infected persons to have the disease unknowingly for fifteen years or more as symptoms still may not be present. Once symptoms of chronic Hepatitis C appear, they are symptoms of the liver damage that has resulted from the virus:

  • Weight loss
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
  • Swelling of the legs
  • Bleeding and bruising easily
  • Poor appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion and slurred speech
  • Spider-like blood vessels
  • Abdominal fluid buildup

Is There a Cure For Hepatitis C?

Yes! Hepatitis C can be cured with treatment. Once treated, if the virus is no longer present in the blood after three months, it is considered cured.

How Is Hepatitis C Treated?

Hepatitis C is most commonly treated using antiviral medications along with recommendations for rest, fluids and a healthy diet. The type of treatment chosen by a doctor will depend on other existing health conditions, the presence of liver damage and the specific strain of the Hepatitis C virus contracted.

In cases of chronic Hepatitis C where severe liver damage is present, a liver transplant may be necessary. Liver transplantation is not a cure for Hepatitis C. Therefore, antiviral medications are used in conjunction to ensure the virus has left the body.

How Can I Prevent Hepatitis C?

Unlike Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B, there is no vaccine to prevent Hepatitis C. Research is underway to develop a vaccine for the future. Currently, the best way to prevent the virus is to avoid contact with the blood of infected persons.

What Precautions Can I Take To Avoid Hepatitis C?

There are several ways to protect yourself from the Hepatitis C virus:

  • Don’t share needles (or stop illicit drug use)
  • Only get tattoos and piercings at reputable places to ensure proper safety standards
  • Follow safety precautions if working in healthcare to prevent blood contact and needle sticks
  • Avoid unprotected sex with multiple partners
  • Don’t share toothbrushes, razors, etc. with infected persons

It is important to note that Hepatitis C cannot be spread by sharing food and drinks, kissing, sneezing/coughing, or other casual contact.

Have you or someone you know been exposed to Hepatitis C? The Liver Institute is here to help! Contact us or call 1-877-4A-LIVER