Hepatitis C or Hep C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). It can either present as an acute illness or a chronic one, lasting lifelong. This article will give you a better look at hepatitis C symptoms, transmission, causes, and treatment. In the community, infected carries refer to it as the sleeping dragon, because of its high potential to prove fatal, even years after the primary infection. CDC reported an estimated 3,186 cases of acute hepatitis C in the US in 2017. At the same time, almost 2.4 million people lived in the US in 2016. These data report only the known cases, though many asymptomatic ones can't be countable. 

Hepatitis C can last for a few weeks to months or transform into a chronic and fatal illness. Acute hepatitis C refers to a new infection that usually lasts for 6 months. In this period, your body can either eliminate hep C or let it evolve into a chronic and lifelong illness. Chronic forms may lead to liver cirrhosis, cancer, or even death. Unfortunately, the likelihood that the acute form will evolve into the chronic one is almost 75%–85%. However, approximately 15% to 25% of patients will fight the percipient infection, alone or upon medication.  

HCV transmission, is hepatitis C an STD?

Although acquiring HCV through sex is less common, it is still possible. The main route of HCV transmission is blood. Therefore, people can get hepatitis C when HCV-infected blood from a different source enters their body. That source may be a physical person or sharing needles and syringes. Some of the most high-risk activities to acquire HCV are: 

  • sharing needles for injectable drugs
  • needlestick injuries in the healthcare domain
  • being born by an HCV-positive mother

Your chances to acquire HCV are less when performing one or more of the following activities: 

  • sharing toothbrushes or razors
  • having unprotected sex with multiple partners
  • having sex with an HCV-positive partner
  • tattooing or piercing your body carelessly 

If you are familiar with any of the above activities, and there's a chance you exposed yourself to HCV, getting tested for hepatitis C is crucial. Remember that the route of HCV transmission is not only through blood. Hepatitis C is transmissible through sex, as well. Those at higher risk may already have a sexually transmitted disease, be HIV positive, or engage in rough sex. 

What are the first symptoms of hepatitis C?

Acute hepatitis C will most probably be asymptomatic. When it isn't, symptoms may range from 2 to 12 weeks to appear. People acutely infected with HCV reported tiredness, nausea, fever, vomiting, loss of appetite, and jaundice. Jaundice may produce dark urine and yellowish discoloration of the skin and eyes. Can a person spread hepatitis C without having symptoms? Yes, HCV is transmissible even in the absence of symptoms. 

What are the symptoms of chronic hepatitis C?

Chronic hepatitis C may develop as an entirely asymptomatic form, accompanied by generic symptoms, such as fatigue and low mood. After a while, chronic liver disease develops, followed by liver cirrhosis. The former is hepatic scarring and behaves as a pre-cancerous state. Most people with liver cirrhosis will present with hepatocellular carcinoma, known as hepatic cancer. Therefore, the asymptomatic nature of the disease means that it is possible to have hepatitis C and not know it. The only way to find out is to get tested. You can do that by blood exams or with an STD rapid kit test, at home. 

Hepatitis C treatment

HCV-positive people with an acute infection do not usually require any specific treatment. They are followed up by a physician and receive supportive measures. Essential treatment is a choice only when suspecting an evolution to chronic illness. Chronic hepatitis C treatment consists of 8 to 12 weeks of oral therapy and with a 90% success score. Direct-acting antiviral (DAA) tablets are the most effective and safe drugs against HCV. Some examples include:

  • Protease inhibitors 
  • Polymerase inhibitors 
  • NS5A inhibitors
  • Common Combinations marketed by a single manufacturer

The treatment aims to gain a Sustained Virological Response (SVR). SVR means that the virus is not detectable in the blood 12 to 24 weeks after therapy has stopped. The drugs are initially combined with shots of Interferon. What is interesting about hepatitis C treatment is that it doesn't actively fight the infection. Instead, it prepares and strengthens your immune system to do it. Therefore, hepatitis C can be curable when treated early and effectively. 

Alcohol is always contraindicated, along with certain medicines that could negatively charge the liver. Vaccination against hepatitis A and B is necessary, if not already performed. 

Hepatitis C prevention, is there a vaccine that can prevent hepatitis C?

The only vaccines available for viral hepatitis are for types A and B. Unfortunately, there's no preventive vaccine for HCV. The only way to prevent hepatitis C is by avoiding certain behavioral patterns, such as:

  • sharing needles or other tools for injectable drugs
  • sharing toothbrushes or razors
  • having sex with multiple partners
  • having unprotected sex
  • having sex with an HCV-positive person

Also, being said that hepatitis C is curable, early detection by testing could be lifesaving. Responsible screening for HCV, when exposed to reckless behaviors, protects ourselves and the people we love. Can you be re-infected with hepatitis C virus if you have cleared the virus? Unfortunately, you can. So, try and avoid all these behaviors that put you at high risk. Another possibility is to co-infect yourself with HCV and HIV. Having one virus doesn't make your body immune to the other. Surprisingly, you can get infected with both HCV and HIV by one and only person.