ABC’s of Chronic Hepatitis
Chronic Hepatitis C affects more than three million people in the United States, most of whom are Baby Boomers (those born between 1945 and 1965). That may shock a lot of people because the disease is often thought of as the exclusive purview of active drug addicts and therefore, presumably younger people. And while it’s true that intravenous drug injection for recreational use is the leading cause of the disease, albeit not the only one, the sufferer does not have to be an addict now, or even a recent user.
Years, even decades, can have passed before the symptoms of the disease surface. In fact, up to 75% of people with Hep C are unaware that their livers are being slowly damaged.
Hepatitis (literally, Greek for “inflammation of the liver”) describes three related but separate diseases caused by three different viruses. Although each can cause liver damage, they have different modes of transmission and can affect the liver differently.
Hepatitis A appears only as an acute or newly occurring infection and does not become chronic. People with Hepatitis A usually improve without treatment. Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C also begin as acute infections, but in some people, the virus remains in the body, resulting in chronic disease and long-term liver problems. There are vaccines to prevent Hepatitis A and B; however, there is not one for Hepatitis C. If a person has had one type of viral hepatitis in the past, it is still possible to get the other types,” according to the CDC.
What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness that attacks the liver. It results from infection with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is spread primarily through contact with the blood of an infected person. Hepatitis C can be either “acute” or “chronic.”
Acute Hepatitis C virus infection is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the Hepatitis C virus. For most people, acute infection leads to chronic infection.
Chronic Hepatitis C virus infection is a long-term illness that occurs when the Hepatitis C virus remains in a person’s body. Hepatitis C virus infection can last a lifetime and lead to serious liver problems, including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or liver cancer.
Digging Deeper into Hepatitis C with Dr. Pitman
Dr. Doug Pitman, a primary care physician with SignatureMD with a practice in Whitefish, Montana, feels it is important to review viral illnesses before discussing Hepatitis C in depth. He explains, “Viruses are exceedingly small (much smaller than bacteria) life forms that have a protein shell, which encases genetic material (RNA). Some of the more notorious viruses are those that cause polio, chickenpox, the common cold, AIDS, and a host of other diseases.
“As you can see from this abbreviated list, viruses can be exceedingly dangerous and difficult to treat but also very common and easily combated by the body’s immune system,” he says.
Hepatitis is caused by three very similar and yet different viruses. These viruses have been labeled Hepatitis A, B and C simply as a shorthand for differentiating the viruses that all cause liver inflammation.
More with Dr. Pitman about Hepatitis C.
Q & A with Dr. Pitman
Q: Who is most at risk for contracting Hepatitis C?
A: Those with high risk lifestyles including drug addiction and sexual promiscuity without protection during sexual intercourse are at very high risk for contracting HCV. You’d think that this would put performers for sites like hdpornvideo at quite a high risk, but many of them are actually very well protected from this sort of thing. Because of the nature of the delicate/highly susceptible nature of the rectal mucosa unprotected anal intercourse is an exceedingly risky lifestyle habit that can lead to infection for both men and women.
Q: Hepatitis C is highly contagious, why is this and how does it spread?
A: Like any virus, HCV is highly contagious when exposure occurs. Unlike the common cold, also caused by a virus but one which is spread primarily by hand contact (washing hands avoids the spread), HCV must be spread through and contracted through intimate activity. Once Hepatitis C has gained entrance into the human body, it is a very prolific and tenacious infection. About 80% of those infected will progress to a chronic state of infection, resulting in liver disease. The other 20% of patients infected will clear the virus completely from their systems through their own immune response.
Q: What are the most common/effective treatments for Hepatitis C?
A: Treatment of patients with the disease is based on genotype testing of the virus, the extent of liver damage, and that potential for adverse effects relating to treatment. Although interferon-based regimens have been the mainstay of treatment for HCV, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved two combination-pill interferon free treatments (antiviral antibiotics) for chronic HCV genotype one.
Q: How do you know you have Hepatitis C?
A: You don’t! Initially there are no symptoms and the only way to determine if you have been infected is to have blood testing to make the diagnosis. This is an Anti-HCV antibody testing screening program based on the body’s immune response to the invading virus. After the anti-HCV antibody test comes back positive for infection, a second test involving HCV RNA testing is performed. If the RNA testing is positive this makes the diagnosis of current HCV infection. Those who think they may have been exposed to the HCV – for example, through repeated, unprotected sex, intravenous drug use or a blood infusion before 1992 – should go through a diagnosis testing protocol.
- http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/cfaq.htm. Hepatitis C FAQs for the Public.
- http://whitefishprimarycare.com/. Dr. Pitman SMD landing page.
- https://signaturemd.com/. SignatureMD website.
- http://www.hepchope.com/rethink-hepatitis-c/facts. Hep C Hope website.
- https://signaturemd.com/concierge-physicians/concierge-physician-blog/baby-boomers-conundrum-living-longer-but-not-better/. Baby Boomers Blog on SMD.com.