The hepatitis C virus can cause a chronic liver infection. The infection initially develops as acute hepatitis within the first 6 months of getting infected. The infection progresses to an advanced, chronic stage in a majority of individuals (over 80%), which is referred to as chronic hepatitis C.
How Is Hepatitis C Spread?
In most cases, hepatitis C is transmitted via contact with contaminated blood. Some of the common ways the infection is caught are sharing drug paraphernalia and occupation-related accidental exposures. Hepatitis can also be passed on via sexual intercourse. However, hepatitis C cannot be transmitted via casual physical contact such as hugging, kissing, shaking hands or sneezing and coughing.
Symptoms of Chronic Hepatitis C
Individuals with hepatitis C may remain asymptomatic for a long time and may not be diagnosed with the infection until they get a blood test for an entirely different reason or until their physician notices an irregularity with their liver enzymes. But chronic hepatitis most commonly presents itself with symptoms such as:
- Lethargy, loss of energy
- Stomach pain
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle and joint pain
If hepatitis C leads to liver scarring, which is known as cirrhosis, then patients may exhibit symptoms such as jaundice (discoloration of the skin and eyes), darkening of the urine color, and easy bleeding or bruising.
Chronic Hep C Treatment
Hep C treatment varies patient to patient, but there are numerous FDA-approved hep C medications. Some of these medications are boceprevir, elbasvir-grazoprevir, ledipasvir-sofosbuvir, glecaprevir-pibrentasvir, ombitasvir-paritaprevir-ritonavir, and ribavirin.
There have been many advancements in hepatitis C treatments. The standard treatment method used to a combination of injections and oral medication, which came with some serious adverse side effects. However, the newer medications have made the treatment of chronic hepatitis C much easier and less arduous.
Today, each patient’s treatment is determined based on a host of factors but primarily according to their hepatitis C genotype. Genotype 1 is the most common strain in North America, which is followed by genotypes 2 and 3. Genotypes 4,5, and 6 are much less common in North America.
Treatment now primarily relies on the use of direct-acting antiviral medicines. These medications are free of interferon and ribavirin but still extremely effective in treating chronic hepatitis C with fewer or milder side effects. These newer medications also eliminated the need for injections and are only needed to be taken for a set period to get results.
One of the most common medications used in the treatment of chronic hepatitis C, which is dubbed as a cure, is glecaprevir and pibrentasvir. Available under the brand name Mavyret, this medicine is used for 8 weeks, approved for all hep C genotypes but only for patients who do not have liver scarring and have not received any prior treatment.
On the other hand, elbasvir-grazoprevir, ledipasvir-sofosbuvir, and sofosbuvir-velpatasvir are combination drugs that are taken once daily. Depending on the hep C genotype, these medications can typically cure the infection within 8-12 weeks.
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