Never Miss These Early Signs and Symptoms of Hepatitis C
The hepatitis C virus, otherwise referred to as HCV, can cause a viral infection that can spread through contaminated blood. The disease can lead to inflammation of the liver, and in the most serious cases, can lead to permanent liver damage. There is both acute and chronic hepatitis with the severity of symptoms ranging from mild and only lasting a few short weeks to a more severe, chronic, lifelong illness. According to Mayo Clinic, HCV can exist in seven known forms, also called genotypes. Of these seven forms, there are 67 subtypes that have been identified so far across the globe, type 1 being the most common form in the United States. Around the world, there are currently an estimated 71 million people who suffer from a chronic hepatitis C virus infection. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, more than 3 million people in the United States alone are currently living with chronic hepatitis C. Most of these cases involve people who either do not yet know they are infected or do not feel sick at all. Close to 17,000 new cases occur each year across the nation. The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that nearly 400,000 people died from hepatitis C in 2016 alone. Of these deaths, most were caused by cirrhosis and liver cancer, known as hepatocellular carcinoma or primary liver cancer.
The most affected geographic regions include the Eastern Mediterranean Region and the European Region, according to the WHO. In these areas, the estimated prevalence of hepatitis C varies between 1.5% and 2.3% of the general population. The prevalence rate in the rest of the world reportedly varies between 0.5% to 1%. 23% of new hepatitis C infections are due to injection drug use, with this also being the cause of 33% of HCV-related deaths. However, the infection is related to other exposures as well, notably unsafe health care, transfusion of unscreened blood, and sexual intercourse that may expose someone to infected blood.
The hepatitis C virus incubates between 2-24 weeks (6 months). Close to 80% of people who have been infected do not show any symptoms during that initial infection period. Acute cases may include symptoms such as fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, joint pain, yellowing of the skin and the eye whites, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, darker urine, and/or feces that appears grey. An acute infection does not lead to chronic life-threatening diseases. According to Mayo Clinic, roughly 30% of people who have acquired the infection will spontaneously be rid of the virus without any treatment within 6 months. This is known as spontaneous viral clearance. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all adults from 18-79 years of age undergo a hepatitis C screening, mainly due to the fact that almost half of people infected with the virus will not show symptoms (or only decades after the initial infection) so they remain unaware that they’re infected.
A simple blood test can diagnose the hepatitis C virus. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services notes that most acute infections eventually become chronic cases of hepatitis C. In fact, 75-85% of people who become infected develop a chronic infection. In these instances, the virus stays in a person’s body and can last a lifetime, causing serious problems in the liver. By the time signs of the disease show up in chronic cases, the liver is most often already quite damaged. Some of those symptoms that can easily be overlooked include easy bleeding and bruising, unexplained fatigue, loss of appetite, itchy skin, swollen legs, noticeable weight loss, confusion and slurred speech, and/or visible spiderlike blood vessels. The liver can be damaged even without any apparent symptoms. Liver transplants carried out in the United States are often the leading result of diseases caused by chronic hepatitis C.
Although there is not yet a vaccine to prevent hepatitis C, research is cutting-edge and prioritized among scientists around the world. Antiviral medications taken daily for 2 to 6 months can cure many people with the infection. According to the WHO, people most at risk of a hepatitis C infection include people in prisons, people who use drugs both via injection and other, children born to infected mothers, people with an HIV infection, people with tattoos or piercings, and those who have been treated with blood products in a medical facility that may have a compromised blood supply.
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
World Health Organization (WHO)