What do Evel Knievel, Etta James, and Keith Richards have in common?
Each of these outstanding individuals underwent treatment for Hepatitis C. The lives and successes of such persons stands as a testament to the fact that once diagnosed, Hepatitis C can be lived with. In fact, Richards claims to have cured himself by “just being me.”
Why does this matter?
No matter who you are, adjusting to life with this liver disease is distinctly possible. While cases range in severity and symptoms, ongoing treatments and proper care do directly lessen the impact of the virus with specialty pharmacy.
Today, we’ll talk about how to recognize and react to Hepatitis C, pursue adequate treatments, and thrive despite any diagnoses. As a specialty pharmacy, we are up to date on the latest medical breakthroughs and treatments available.
What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis: inflammation of the liver.
Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that’s found worldwide. The severity of the disease ranges between passing illness of a couple weeks to a lifelong affliction characterized by lifelong attacks upon the liver.
The disease mostly affects those who inject drugs and share needles, though it spreads by blood contact with any infected person. Historically, some have contracted Hepatitis C through transplanted organs and blood transfusions. However, in 1992 the United States began the widespread screening of the blood supply to prevent further instances.
Strains of the Hepatitis C (HCV) virus can vary by region, though it is most common in parts of East Asia and Africa.
The virus comes in three primary strains:
- Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.
- All are viral infections that affect the liver. Each strain of hepatitis is caused by a different virus and each impacts the body differently.
- Unlike Hepatitis C, Hepatitis A and B are both preventable by vaccine.
Hepatitis C may be either acute or chronic.
Acute Hepatitis C is a short-term illness that’s experienced within the first six months of being exposed to HCV. However, most who are afflicted with acute Hepatitis C will develop a chronic infection.
Chronic Hepatitis C is a long-term (often lifetime) illness that exists so long as the Hepatitis C virus remains within the body. Chronic infection of leads to serious liver issues, such as cirrhosis or liver cancer.
As of 2014:
- 75% – 85% of those infected with acute Hepatitis C will develop a chronic infection
- ~30,000 annual cases of acute Hepatitis were reported in the United States
- Between 2.7 – 3.9 million people in the United States live with chronic Hepatitis C
That’s not all.
It can be difficult to assess if you have Hepatitis C because 70% – 80% of those with the virus do not show symptoms. The incubation period for HCV is between two weeks to six months, in which time no symptoms will show. Those who are acutely symptomatic are more likely to display signs.
Symptoms of Hepatitis C may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Dark urine
- Jaundice (yellow discolorations on skin, around eyes)
- Joint pain
- Loss of appetite
Because it’s often asymptomatic, few people are diagnosed with Hepatitis C in the acute phase. Even those with a chronic infection often go undiagnosed for many years – which is particularly dangerous. Why? Symptoms typically start to show in chronic sufferers decades later, at the point where symptoms are displaying serious damages to the liver. For this reason, screening for Hepatitis C is often necessary and can prevent harsh complications later.
How to Diagnose Hepatitis C
To test for Hepatitis C, there are two steps.
First, there’s a screening for anti-HCV antibodies in the blood. Second, and only if the first test is positive, a ribonucleic acid (RNA) test is used to confirm the presence of HCV. As 15% of people infected with Hepatitis C will develop a strong immune response and overcome the infection, this secondary measure is needed because though these individuals are no longer infected, they will still test positive for HCV antibodies.
Some infected with Hepatitis C will experience fluctuations in liver enzyme levels while others will have enzyme levels remain normal. For those with normal enzyme levels, a screening should be conducted a few times within a 6 – 12 month period.
If you’ve tested positive for Hepatitis C, the next step is to schedule an assessment of the liver to determine the extent of any damage such as cirrhosis and fibrosis. A variety of non-invasive tests or a liver biopsy is available. Next, laboratory tests should confirm which of the six genotypes of the Hepatitis C virus in present. Every genotype reacts to treatment from a specialty pharmacy differently, and it’s possible to become infected with more than one. Taking account of these factors will help guide further treatment.
Varied Treatment With Specialty Pharmacy for Hepatitis C Varied Depending on Damage Extent
Treatments for Hepatitis C varies because the extent of damage from HCV differs by person.
Some people’s immune system will clear the infection, while others will live with a chronic infection and develop no liver damage. Treatment is only necessary in some cases, though when treatment begins the goal is a total cure. The success of these curative treatments depends on the viral strain and types of treatment administered.
Standard care surrounding Hepatitis C is changing. Typically, Hepatitis C treatment constituted a therapy of interferon and ribavirin given as weekly injections for almost a full year. Historically, this treatment cured roughly half of all patients, though often resulted in life-threatening reactions.
Today, a host of new antiviral medications are available.
“This is a revolution in clinical medicine that we haven’t seen for decades, where you go from a really problematic complex therapy to a really simple, well-tolerated, highly curative therapy.” Professor Greg Dore, The Kirby Institute
Direct antiviral agents (DAA) are a class of much more safe, effective, and body-compatible drugs. Therapy using DAAs cures most recipients with Hepatitis C infection. Treatment is shorter – only 12 weeks usually – and is much safer. However, DAAs are very expensive in most developed countries and are often unavailable in lower-income regions. Low quantities in production have kept costs high, though generic versions of these medicines are becoming available in many areas.
“We’re talking about curing people with 98 percent success rate. It’s a whole new ball game.” — Dr. Ari Bunim, NY Hospital, Queens, NY
I can’t emphasize this enough.
If you’re diagnosed with Hepatitis C, you should be monitored by an experienced doctor who can help manage your treatments. Alcohol should be avoided to minimize additional liver damage. Consult your medical professional before taking any pills, medications, or engaging in new treatments – as these can provide liver-damaging complaints.
Hepatitis C Prevention
Since there’s no vaccine for Hepatitis C, prevention is the key safeguard against infection. Foremost, reduce your risk of exposure to the virus from blood-borne sources. Health-care settings and populations of intravenous drug users are the most prominent, through sexual contact with infected persons is a slight risk as well.
People can become infected with Hepatitis C through activities such as:
- Sharing needles and other drug injection tools
- Needle stockings from health care situations
- Being born from a Hepatitis C infected mother
Other much less common possible Hepatitis C transfers can occur when:
- Having sexual contact with a Hepatitis C infected person
- Sharing personal care items that may come in contact with blood, such as toothbrushes or razors
Should You Get Tested for Hepatitis C?
Certain groups of people are more likely to contract Hepatitis C, depending on when they were born, history of drug use, or pre-existing health issues.
You should ask your doctor or healthcare professional about being tested for Hepatitis C – if you satisfy one or more of these qualifications:
- You are infected with HIV. A weakened immune system is particularly susceptible to liver damage.
- You show abnormal liver enzyme levels or have liver disease. Existing liver issues will often raise awareness about Hepatitis C, so be sure to get tested if you’re experiencing liver complications or have a history of liver disease.
- You partake in long-term hemodialysis treatment. Blood transfusions have historically carried the risk of Hepatitis C.
- You work in the health care or public safety industries and have been stuck with a needle or other sharp object. Coming into contact with blood poses a distinct risk of Hepatitis C infection, so be sure to pursue testing if you’ve been stuck recently.
- You are a current or former injection drug user. Even if it was years ago, the use of dirty needles is the primary means of infection for Hepatitis C. Consult a medical professional immediately for a test.
- You received an organ transplant or blood transfusion before 1992. As of July 1992, the United States instituted a rigorous testing procedure of blood and organ banks. But previously, organ, tissue, and blood recipients risked contracting Hepatitis C from their donors.
- You were treated for a blood clotting problem any time before 1987.
- You were born between 1945 – 1965. Healthcare has made some sweeping advancements in the last half century, while older care procedures and techniques have exposed some individuals to infection. If you’re an aging citizen, it’s especially important to guard against cirrhosis and fibrosis from Hepatitis C.
While Hepatitis C is not a widespread viral infection, it can be very damaging and dangerous to those afflicted and thus necessitates precautionary measures. As most who are infected show no symptoms until late-stage symptoms testify to liver damage, testing for Hepatitis C is strongly recommended.
“Most people are surprised when I say hepatitis C is pretty much totally curable now.” — David Baker, MD, and General Practitioner
Fortunately, the testing process has never been faster and easier in the days of the specialty pharmacy. Plus, a host of new medications has shortened treatment times while drastically increasing the chances of curing the virus.
Ultimately, taking caution against infection and safeguarding against off-chance infection is the safest policy regarding Hepatitis C. As we discussed at the beginning if testing and treatment work for daredevils and superstars, why would you wait?