Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a contagious viral infection that causes inflammation and damage to the liver. The infection ranges from an acute infection lasting a few weeks to a chronic infection that can continue a lifetime. Approximately 2-3% of the United States population is infected chronically with hepatitis C. For many, the viral infection has few signs and symptoms and progresses slowly. Most people infected with hepatitis C do not know they are infected because they do not feel sick. However, overtime the liver becomes impaired and more distinct signs and symptoms develop such as: jaundice (yellowing of skin and whites of your eyes), changes in urine and stool color, joint pain/muscle aches, loss of appetite, etc. Those infected for longer periods of time are at risk for more serious health problems emerging such as cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer, and/or the possible need for a liver transplant. Chronic hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver cancer and liver transplants.

Hepatitis C is spread by blood-to-blood contact. People at the highest risk for chronic hepatitis C infection are:

  • baby boomers (those born between 1945-1965)
  • history of intravenous or intranasal illicit drug use
  • blood transfusion recipients prior to 1992
  • received tattoos with unsterilized equipment
  • healthcare professionals (needle stick injuries)
  • having sexual relations with someone known to be hepatitis C positive
  • those born to a mother known to be hepatitis C positive

Chronic hepatitis C is diagnosed with simple blood tests. While these tests are not usually part of routine bloodwork they can be easily requested and preformed through your healthcare provider. The CDC currently recommends that all baby boomers (those born between 1945-1965) as well as those considered at high risk are screened for chronic hepatitis C at least once.

Chronic hepatitis C is CURABLE! Recent advances in therapies options allow for extremely effective (cure rates average 95% or higher for most patients), tolerable, and short durations of treatment. Drugs used to treat chronic hepatitis C are antivirals that are very targeted against the hepatitis C virus. This allows the medication to be harmful to the hepatitis C virus but not overly harmful to the patient as a whole. Side effects for most therapy options range from nonexistent to mild/moderate headache, tiredness, and stomach upset.

Patients are encouraged to discuss screening and possible treatment options with their providers as appropriate.     
So what do these advancing HCV treatment options suggest for the race to the cure?
With lower pill burden, fewer and more tolerable side effects, and heightened cure rates, these new therapy options may support improved patient adherence and compliance, and ultimately improve long-term patient outcomes and their associated future costs.

 

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