May is Hepatitis Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness and promote proactive testing for this virus that can cause serious problems for the liver.
What is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis refers to an inflammation of the liver. There are three common types of Hepatitis: A, B and C, each caused by different viruses. Hepatitis A begins as an acute infection but is temporary and many people will improve without treatment. Both Hepatitis B and C can begin as an acute infection but may also develop into a long-term chronic condition. There are vaccines to prevent Hepatitis A and B, both given to children at young ages. Visit Texas Health Care’s immunization recommendations for additional details on these and other vital vaccines.
There is no vaccine to prevent Hepatitis C, at least not yet. Hepatitis C is contagious, transmitted primarily through contact with an infected person’s blood. One of the most common ways the disease is transmitted is sharing syringes, which is why intravenous drug users are at high risk for the virus. Health care workers are also at greater risk, due to the possibility of an accidental needle stick.
Less commonly, the disease may be contracted through sexual contact and sharing an item such as a razor or toothbrush with an infected person. Although there is no evidence to suggest widespread transmission through tattoo or body art facilities, infection is possible if the tattoo artist has poor sanitation and infection control practices for facilities and equipment.
Regardless of the method of transmission, it is always through contact with blood, not saliva or other bodily fluids. Hepatitis C is also not an airborne disease. It is important to note that the virus can remain alive in dried blood and can survive outside the body for up to three weeks at room temperature. For this reason, it is important that anyone cleaning up blood use bleach and wear protective gloves as a precaution.
Hepatitis C Symptoms
“The vast majority of people who have Hepatitis C – upwards of 70 percent – have no symptoms, which is why it is so important to be tested for the virus.” says Dr. Pavani Muddasini, a gastroenterologist. When symptoms are present, they can include fever, fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, abdominal pain and unusual colored urine and stool.
Hepatitis C can be transmitted from one person to another even if the infected person has no symptoms – this also underscores the importance of being tested. When symptoms do occur, it’s generally between 2 weeks to 6 months after infection, averaging 6-7 weeks after infection.
Living with Hepatitis C
More than 75 percent of people who contract Hepatitis C will see the disease develop into a chronic infection. Chronic Hepatitis C can cause liver damage, liver disease and cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and is the most common reason for liver transplants in the United States each year.
“People with Hepatitis C should see their doctor regularly to manage the disease and should also completely avoid alcohol, which can further damage the liver,” says Dr. Muddasini.
Hepatitis C – both acute and chronic forms – can be treated with a variety of prescriptions approved by the Food & Drug Administration. And in some cases, people with acute Hepatitis C will eventually clear the virus from their body without treatment, although it is not fully understood why this is the case.
If you have tested positive for Hepatitis C, you cannot donate blood. However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend that Hepatitis C patients be excluded from any professions or workplaces, as there is no evidence that people with the virus pose a danger of spreading the disease in particular jobs.
This article contains information sourced from: