Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a leading cause of chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma, as well as the most common indication for liver transplantation in many countries. Some people with HCV have just a short-term illness because their bodies can get rid of the virus. But most infected people (70%–85%) develop a chronic (long-lasting) HCV infection. A diagnosis of chronic hepatitis C means the battle between the virus and the immune system that occurs during the acute stage has finally been won by the virus. It is now highly unlikely that the virus can be cleared without treatment.
In this article, we outline the symptoms of hepatitis C infection and the ways in which a person can develop it. We also discuss Diagnoses, tests, and treatment options for people living with chronic hepatitis C.
What Are Some Symptoms of Chronic Hepatitis C?
Many people who have chronic hepatitis C are unaware of it. Most only experience symptoms once they have developed significant liver damage. This can take years or even decades.
People with chronic hepatitis C may experience the following symptoms: fatigue; fever; nausea; vomiting; stomach pain; gray stools; dark urine; loss of appetite etc.
Chronic HCV – Causes and Risk Factors
Hepatitis C can infect a person when blood from someone with the infection enters their bloodstream. The following situations can expose people to the hepatitis C virus:
➡ coming into contact with the blood of someone who has hepatitis C
➡ sharing or reusing needles
➡ receiving a tattoo or piercing with unsterilized tools
➡ receiving infected blood or organ transplants
➡ being born to a woman who has hepatitis C infection
➡ sexual contact without barrier protection, especially rough or anal sex, which makes blood-to-blood contact more likely
The hepatitis C virus only travels through the blood. As a result, the following situations will not expose people to the virus:
→ touching, hugging, holding hands
→ being coughed or sneezed on
→ sharing food or drinks
Hepatitis C Diagnosis and Tests
Doctors can diagnose hepatitis C using blood tests:
▶ First, the doctor will perform a simple blood test to look for hepatitis C antibodies in the blood. A positive test means that the person has had exposure to the virus, but does not necessarily prove ongoing infection.
▶ If the antibody test is positive, the person may then have a second blood test called a hepatitis C RNA test. This will check whether the virus is still present in the blood.
▶ A third blood test — called a genotype test — can work out which type of hepatitis C virus is present, as there are at least six types.
▶ If the person has had hepatitis C for a long time, a doctor may recommend further tests to look for liver damage, measure the severity of any existing damage, and rule out other causes of damage.
These tests usually involve blood tests and ultrasound scans. Doctors only use a liver biopsy — which involves taking a small sample of liver tissue — when the other tests do not provide enough information.
Chronic Hepatitis C Treatment Options
There are more treatment medicines for hepatitis C available now than ever before. Up until just a few years ago, people living with hepatitis C only had two medication options: pegylated interferon and ribavirin. Now, there are several antiviral medications that your doctor may prescribe. Direct-acting antiviral medicines (DAAs) can cure most cases of chronic hepatitis C. The medications are well-tolerated, with the most common side effects being a headache and fatigue. These hepatitis c drugs work by targeting specific steps in the HCV life cycle to disrupt the reproduction of viral cells.
DAAs to treat hepatitis C include:
✔️ Ledipasvir 90 mg and Sofosbuvir 400 mg
✔️ Velpatasvir 100 mg and Sofosbuvir 400 mg
✔️ Daclatasvir 60 mg
✔️ Sofosbuvir 400 mg
✔️ Daclatasvir 60 mg and Sofosbuvir 400 mg
The choice of HCV medication and duration of treatment depends on the genotype of the virus. Before DAAs became available, the treatment for chronic hepatitis C was lengthy and uncomfortable, with less than ideal cure rates. Now, the cure rates are over 90%. It’s important to take medication as directed. You can explain any concerns you have about how and when you take the drug. Your doctor may have support options available or may recommend a different treatment plan.