The grave damage Hepatitis C infection causes to the liver is quite alarming and sadly, many people have suffered from it without treatment or vaccination to prevent it in the first place.
This is totally different from Hepatitis A and B virus because both have available and effective vaccines alongside medications that help prevent and combat the virus, thereby reducing the risk of being infected. Although vaccination is the most favorable method of preventing infection, there may be a lot of problems if preventive measures are not strictly adhered to.
It has been very difficult to develop an effective vaccine to effectively fight against Hepatitis C due to the many variations of the virus. The Hepatitis C virus occurs in at least 6 genetically different forms with about 50 currently identified sub-types.
Therefore, for effective vaccines to be developed and deployed, they will have to protect against all types of the Hepatitis C virus. This is not to say that efforts have not been made to develop HCV vaccine after the discovery of the virus in 1989.
Each year, 3 to 4 million persons are infected with HCV globally and are at great risk of developing liver cirrhosis or liver cancer. The standard treatment procedure for Hepatitis C has been a combination of antiviral therapy with medications like Interferon and Ribavirin, which are effective against all genotypes of Hepatitis C viruses.
A single dose of this treatment is quite expensive and not usually affordable by the common man in most parts of the world. However, several vaccines are still in the development process and some have shown promising pre-clinical results. Over the years, HCV vaccines have been tested on mice and primates, but only a few of the vaccines have made positive progress on human trials.
Preventive Measures Recommended for HCV, Pending an Effective Vaccine
It is necessary to take precautionary measures to shield against the destructive effects posed by the Hepatitis C infection while we hopefully await the approval and final production of an effective vaccine that would be effective on all the Hepatitis C variants. In other words, on can protect him or herself from contracting or transferring Hepatitis C virus by not indulging in activities that put one in contact with HCV infected blood. The transmission may be prevented by completely sticking to the following:
- Avoid the sharing of needles, syringes, and intravenous injectable drugs. The sharing of sharp objects with an infected person puts one at a great deal of risk. Therefore, persons on injectable or intravenous medications should take caution so as not to use contaminated needles or syringes as it could result in the transmission of infectious blood to an uninfected person. Also, medical equipment should be sterilized immediately before and after use in order to kill any virus that must have contaminated such equipment with HCV infected blood.
- Avoid sharing personal items contaminated with infected blood. It is necessary to abstain totally from using someone else’s personal items such as a razor, toothbrush, or hair clippers because such items can transfer Hepatitis C infected blood to another person.
- Avoid having sexual intercourse with an infected person. Having unprotected sex poses a very high risk of contracting any type of Hepatitis C; as a result of this, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, one of many such agencies around the world, recommends the use of condoms to prevent the transmission of Hepatitis C virus for those with multiple sex partners.
- Be extra careful during body modifications. Over the years, it has been discovered that tattooing the body is associated with increased risk of transmitting Hepatitis C virus. This is as a result of improper sterilization of the equipment or contamination of dyes being used. Extensive research shows that nearly half of prison inmates share unsterilized equipment for tattooing. It is advised that if tattooing or piercing must be done, such persons should visit a licensed facility because such facilities have minimal or no likelihood of HCV infections as a result of proper sterilizations and top-notch hygiene procedures maintained in such facilities.
- Mother to child transmission. Although it is not clear as to when transmission occurs during pregnancy, multiple studies show that it may occur during gestation and at delivery. Be that as it may, to take precaution, a pregnant woman is advised to get tested and see her physician for immediate commencement of treatment in order to prevent transmitting the infection to her infant. Also, infected lactating mothers should avoid breastfeeding if they discover a crack in their nipples and/or bleeding, or if her viral load is high.
Taking precautionary measures by avoiding or being cautious of the above-stated activities might be the difference between living a life free of Hepatitis C virus. The combination of harm-reducing strategies, such as the use of new needles in place of old ones, sterilization of equipment before use, and conscious use of condoms during sex goes a long way to reduce the risk of contracting Hepatitis C.
Although one might not be able to prevent Hepatitis C today with a vaccine, everyone can live a Hepatitis C infection-free life by reducing the chances of being infected and adhering strictly to recommended preventive measures.