Hepatitis C: What Is It? • Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus: the virus can cause both acute and chronic hepatitis, ranging in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. • The hepatitis C virus is a bloodborne virus and the most common modes of infection are through exposure to small quantities of blood. This may happen through injection drug use, unsafe injection practices, unsafe health care, and the transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products. • Globally, an estimated 71 million people have chronic hepatitis C infection. • A significant number of those who are chronically infected will develop cirrhosis or liver cancer. • Approximately 399 000 people die each year from hepatitis C, mostly from cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. • Antiviral medicines can cure more than 95% of persons with hepatitis C infection, thereby reducing the risk of death from liver cancer and cirrhosis, but access to diagnosis and treatment is low.
Symptoms The incubation period for hepatitis C is 2 weeks to 6 months. Following initial infection, approximately 80% of people do not exhibit any symptoms. Those who are acutely symptomatic may exhibit fever, fatigue, decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, grey-coloured faeces, joint pain and jaundice (yellowing of skin and the whites of the eyes).
How You Get Hepatitis C? The hepatitis C virus is a bloodborne virus. It is most commonly transmitted through: • injecting drug use through the sharing of injection equipment; • the reuse or inadequate sterilization of medical equipment, especially syringes and needles in healthcare settings; and • the transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products. HCV can also be transmitted sexually and can be passed from an infected mother to her baby; however these modes of transmission are much less common. Hepatitis C is not spread through breast milk, food, water or by casual contact such as hugging, kissing and sharing food or drinks with an infected person.
Medications Treatment Hepatitis C does not always require treatment as the immune response in some people will clear the infection, and some people with chronic infection do not develop liver damage. When treatment is necessary, the goal of hepatitis C treatment is cure. The cure rate depends on several factors including the strain of the virus and the type of treatment given. The standard of care for hepatitis C is changing rapidly. Sofosbuvir, Daclatasvir , sofosbuvir/ledipasvir , and Velpatasvir/ Sofosbuvir combination are part of the preferred regimens in the WHO guidelines, and can achieve cure rates above 95%. These medicines are much more effective, safer and better-tolerated than the older therapies. Therapy with DAAs can cure most persons with HCV infection and treatment is shorter (usually 12 weeks). Prices have dropped dramatically in some countries (primarily low-income) due to the introduction of generic versions of these medicines.