Hepatitis C is an infectious disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV) which affects the liver. The condition is sometimes asymptomatic meaning that there are no clear signs of its presence, but can cause a range of problems such as fibrosis (the scarring of the liver) and cirrhosis (advanced scarring). This can lead to liver failure, liver cancer and gastric varices or esophageal varices meaning it is potentially life threatening.
Approximately 300 million people across the world suffer from hepatitis C and in many cases this can go undiagnosed for some time. In some cases the virus will leave of its own accord, but in 85% of cases it will remain within in the liver. This persistent infection can then be treated using medication such as peginterferon and ribavirin. This is effective for around 51% of patients. In some cases liver transplant will be necessary.
How Hepatitis C Spreads
Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood contact, and that means that there are a number of possible risk factors. These include:
• The injection of illegal drugs, or the use of any unclean needle – which accounts for 60% of cases
• Health care work (5%)
• Unprotected sex (and especially anal sex which is more likely to cause bleeding) which accounts for 15%
• Some recipients of clotting factor concentrates which were made before 1987
• Recipients of organ transplants or blood transfusions which took place before 1992
• Those with long-term hemodialysis
• Those with HIV infections
• Those who have used drugs in powder form – through blood shared on snorting straws
• Children of hepatitis C positive mothers
However a further 10-30% of patients are actually unaware of how they contracted hepatitis C, which can make diagnosis and prevention more difficult (though in reality once the condition has been diagnosed, the cause is not important). If you fall into any of these risk groups, then it is a good idea to get yourself checked for hepatitis C.
You should also see a health professional if you are showing any signs of liver damage and they may test you for hepatitis C. To prevent yourself from the condition, make sure to be careful to avoid unprotected sex with strangers, or the use of illicit drugs. If you need to use anything that may come into contact with your blood or an open wound, then make sure it is completely sterilized first.