Hepatitis C is a viral infection that does serious damage to your liver over time. A chronic hepatitis C infection can lead to serious scarring of the liver called cirrhosis, as well as liver cancer and liver failure. Hepatitis C treatment used to be a lengthy process that was generally not very effective. Today, new medicines have turned the viral infection into a “curable” condition; hepatitis C is considered “cured” when the virus is not detectable at 12 and 24 weeks after treatment ends.
Hepatitis C affects millions of Americans. About 2.7 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C, according to the CDC.
Hepatitis C is known as the “silent epidemic” because people can be infected for twenty-five to thirty years or more and have no idea they have the disease. Early on in a hepatitis C infection, many people feel nausea and fatigue. These are sometimes symptoms that don’t necessarily prompt doctors to test you for hepatitis C. It’s important that if you feel these symptoms and they remain chronic that you request to be tested for HCV because by the time blood tests reveal elevated enzymes, your liver may already be damaged.
The most common hepatitis C strain in the United States is genotype 1.The hepatitis C virus is diverse and includes six commonly-seen types. Nearly 75% of hepatitis C cases here are genotype 1, 12% are genotype 2, and much fewer cases are seen categorized as genotypes 3 through 6.
You might not realize you have serious liver damage. In some cases, by the time your hepatitis C symptoms reveal themselves, life-threatening damage may have already occurred. Of every hundred people with chronic hepatitis C, between five and twenty will develop cirrhosis. Between 1% and 5% will die of either cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Symptoms of liver damage and end-stage hepatitis C disease include:
The hepatitis C virus is spread by contact with the infected blood of another person. Healthcare professionals who are accidentally stuck with contaminated needles and babies who are born to mother with HCV are among those at risk. Transmission during sex is also possible, but risk is low as long as neither person has any cuts or open sores. Sharing needles for drug use or getting tattoos or piercings using unsterilized tools are also common ways of getting HCV. However, if you received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992, when the blood supply was not screened and you are at risk for having the disease.
It is suggested that baby boomers—those born between 1946 and 1964—should get a hepatitis C test, as they have a one in thirty chance of having the disease. It is believed many were infected during the 70s and 80s when infection rates were highest. Many could have gotten the virus from contaminated blood, or blood products like those that treat hemophilia, before screening for the virus was common practice.
There is no hepatitis C vaccine. A vaccine is not yet available because there are many different kinds of hepatitis C and it is difficult to come up with one vaccine that is effective in preventing all of them. Avoiding high-risk behaviors, such as needle sharing, is the best way to avoid contracting HCV.
However, hepatitis C treatment is rapidly advancing. For years, interferon injections and ribavirin pills were only 40% to 50% effective at controlling the virus. And even that therapy came with serious side effects, such depression, suicide risk, fatigue, and other flu-like symptoms. Now, drugs approved in late 2014 “cure” hepatitis C for 90% of infected people. Drugs for hepatitis C cost more than $94,000 for a 12-week supply and some insurers will not pay for hepatitis C therapy unless patients have significant liver damage.
Drug treatment options for the most common hepatitis C viral strain in the United States, genotype 1, include Harvoni, which is a combination of Sovaldi (sofosbuvir) and ledipasvir. Most people take one pill daily for eight to twelve weeks. There is also Viekira Pak, which is a mixture of ombitasvir, paritaprevir, and ritonavir co-formulated into two pills and taken once a day, in addition to a dasabuvir pill twice a day, for twelve to twenty-four weeks. Experts say that 85% of people in the U.S. will also need ribavirin, which can cause anemia, fatigue, and sleeping disorders. Lastly, there is Olysio (simeprevir), which is a protease inhibitor taken in combination with peginterferon alfa and ribavirin for twelve weeks. The peginterferon/ribavirin therapy continues for twelve to thirty-six weeks after patients stop taking Olysio.
If you have hepatitis C, simple precautions can protect others. You should not share personal items that could have even tiny amounts of blood, such as toothbrushes, razors, and hair clippers. These types of items should be kept in a separate kit so they aren’t accidentally shared. You should also clean up any spilled blood right away with a solution of bleach and water. Cover blisters or cuts with bandages and carefully dispose of anything with blood on it, such as bandages or tampons.
Even after you are considered “cured” of HCV, you will still need regular checkups with a doctor. A cirrhosis diagnosis resulting from hepatitis C means a lifetime of monitoring for liver cancer. Getting an abdominal ultrasound every six months helps your doctor detect early signs of cancer. Someone with milder liver scarring can usually go back to routine medical care after ridding the body of HCV.
A liver transplant is not a cure for hepatitis C. Permanent damage from hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplants in the United States. But even after a liver transplant, you will need medication to be considered “cured” of HCV. And it is possible to become infected again, especially if you engage in unsafe behaviors.
Avoiding alcohol and losing weight protects your long-term liver health. As we know, drinking too much alcohol leads to liver problem without a hepatitis C. This danger is exponentially worse if you have HCV. People who have hepatitis C should avoid alcohol altogether.
Fatty liver disease—caused when excess fat builds up in the liver—has become one of the most common types of liver disease in the United States. Because excess body fat, like alcohol, is an assault on the liver, you should do what you can to maintain a healthy weight.
If you have questions about having been infected in a hospital setting due to negligence of hospital administration and/or staff members, call our experienced lawyers today for a free preliminary consultation at 800-777-4081.