Hepatitis C: A Silent Epidemic

By: Dr. Abhishek Kumar Pandey, Asstt. Editor-ICN

Hepatitis C has been called a silent epidemic because most people with Hepatitis C do not know they are infected.

Hepatitis is a general term used to describe inflammation of the liver. It is characterized by the presence of inflammatory cells in the liver tissue. Hepatitis can be caused due to various factors such as excessive alcohol consumption, autoimmune diseases, accumulation of fat in the liver causing fatty liver disease and microorganisms, including viruses. There are 5 different types of viruses that cause Hepatitis- hepatitis A, B, C, D and E virus.

Hepatitis C is a contagious, viral liver disease. It is the most common blood-borne disease and most people with hepatitis C do not realize that they have it. It is caused by hepatitis C virus which belongs to the family of Flaviviridae. It is potentially contagious but curable if diagnosed in time. There are two phases of HCV infection-Acute and Chronic. If the virus does not clear within six months, the infection becomes chronic and only curable with medication.

Chronic HCV infection if not managed can cause lifelong liver disease, fibrosis and occasionally cirrhosis. Hepatitis C infection spreads via blood to blood contact. HCV enters the body through two main routes- parenteral (i.e. via blood) and non parenteral (i.e. sexual or vectors). The other ways of transmission includes sharing of unsterilized needles, syringes, unsafe sexual intercourse with infected person, sharing personalized items like tooth brushes, razors etc. However HCV does not spread through sneezing, coughing, breastfeeding, hugging, etc.

Many individuals with hepatitis C infection remain asymptomatic in the initial stages and are unaware that they are infected. Symptoms of acute hepatitis C includes fatigue, weight loss, fever, decreased apatite, joint pain, jaundice, GIT problems like vomiting, nausea and abdominal pain. Depending upon the type of damage to liver, the symptoms of chronic hepatitis C includes- Itchiness, abdominal bloating, pain and tenderness, swelling on legs, feet and ankle, spider like abnormal collection of blood vessels beneath the skin.

Different platforms are available for detection of HCV infection like Liver function test, Serologic anti HCV antibody testing, HCV genotyping, biopsy etc.

HCV infection can be treated successfully with proper medications and lifestyle modifications. Treatment may not be needed in some cases of acute infection and chronic infection without any liver damage. The goal of treatment is to fight with the infection, progression and remission. Nowadays new antiviral drugs have been developed which are more effective, safer and better tolerated. Lifestyle modifications such as abstinence from alcohol and smoking, eating healthy and balanced diet will limit the liver damage.

Day by day the treatment of any disease is getting costlier, which in turn increases the disease burden on healthcare. However appropriate and timely diagnosis will helps in reducing the severe complications caused from the disease. Also proper education and awareness programs will increase our understandings about the disease condition and its transmission. The best way to fight with these health problems is to prevent a disease. As disease prevention would give dual benefits of saving your health as well as your wealth.

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