Hepatitis C is caused by the Hepatitis C virus. The World Health Organisation estimates that 1.75 million new hepatitis C infection occurred in 2015. Like the hepatitis B virus, the hepatitis C virus also comes in several strains, and the frequency of each strain is dependent on geographical location. The hepatitis C virus is bloodborne, so the main route of transmission is through shared needles and blood transfusions. Sexual practices that result in trauma to the mucosal layer of the genital areas, having or existing lesions in these mucosal areas (such as those caused by other sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia or gonorrhea) can also lead to infection through sexual intercourse.
What happens during a hepatitis C infection?
The hepatitis C virus mainly infects the liver, however it is also known to infect certain groups of cells that are part of the immune system. As such, some diseases of the immune system are also associated with hepatitis C.
Infection with the hepatitis C virus comes in two stages: acute and chronic. Acute infection takes place at the initial stage of infection, however this can be anywhere from two weeks to six months after infection. Furthermore, about 80% of people do not show any symptoms after the initial infection (asymptomatic infection). Therefore, the majority of people who get a hepatitis C infection are very likely to be unaware of their infection unless they undergo testing.
Symptoms of acute infection are fever, fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain, and jaundice. Unlike hepatitis B however, acute liver failure is rare. Hepatitis C infection is curable with antiviral medication. A certain percentage of people with acute infection are even able to get rid of the viral infection from their body without requiring any treatment.
For those who do not manage to clear the infection and remain untreated, they will go on to develop a chronic infection, which is an infection that has lasted at least six months. This stage can also be asymptomatic, so once again infection with hepatitis C can go undetected until after extensive liver damage has already set in. Such damage takes place because of continual inflammation in the liver from the infection. This leads to a replacement of liver tissue by scar tissue, a condition called cirrhosis. Such scarring is irreversible. When left undetected and unchecked, progressive scarring of the liver results in a liver that no longer functions (liver failure). At this stage, the liver needs to be replaced. In this case, liver transplantation is an option, although this will require a person to take immunosuppressants for life, to prevent rejection of the donor liver.
Cirrhosis is also associated with fluid buildup in the abdomen (ascites) and highly dilated veins in the esophagus (esophageal varices). Esophageal varices are fragile, making them easy to rupture. This can result in severe bleeding which can be fatal. Besides these conditions, cirrhosis also increases the risk of developing liver disease.
Hepatitis C has a tendency to affect organ systems beyond the liver. Given its known ability to infect immune cells, it may come as no surprise to find that hepatitis C infection is also associated with diseases of the immune system, such as cryoglobulinemia and Sjögren’s syndrome. Other diseases also associated with hepatitis C infection but not affecting the liver are lymphoma (a type of blood cancer) and diabetes mellitus.
How is hepatitis C detected?
Detecting hepatitis C infection requires the use of blood tests. A typical test carried out is the detection of antibodies against the hepatitis C virus. Antibodies are proteins produced by the body to fight off infections. Measuring the viral load (i.e. the amount of virus in the blood) is also another test.
Can a hepatitis C infection be prevented?
Unlike hepatitis B, no vaccine exists for hepatitis C yet. Because infection occurs primarily through blood, particularly from needle sharing, ensuring safe needle use is paramount. To prevent infection through sexual intercourse, make sure that you use condoms or dental dams.
How can a hepatitis C infection be treated?
Fortunately, hepatitis C infection can be cured with antiviral medication. Because response to treatment varies depending on the strain that caused the infection, testing is also required to identify the strain genotype. This will guide your physician in selecting the appropriate treatment for you.
Hepatitis C infection can lead to serious consequences for you, your partner(s), and children. Early detection and treatment are required to safeguard your future and that of your loved ones. Detecting a hepatitis C infection is quick and easy using our rapid test kit, which uses the same method of detection as that of hospital laboratories worldwide. Our Hepatitis C test kit works by detecting the presence of the Hepatitis C surface antigen, a protein that is located on the envelope of the hepatitis C virus. This protein can be found in blood, plasma, or serum. In order to perform this test, the kit requires only 1 – 2 drops of blood from a finger prick and gives you with a reliable and accurate (>98% clinical accuracy) result in 15 minutes. It has been awarded the ISO13485 and GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) certifications, and has also been tested by certified laboratories worldwide. It is safe and easy to use.