Hepatitis C: Treatment & Vaccine

Instructor: Justine Fritzel

Justine has been a Registered Nurse for 10 years and has a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing degree.

Hepatitis C is a virus that is highly contagious. In this lesson, we will learn about treatment of Hepatitis C infections as well as about the vaccine for this disease.

What Is Hepatitis C?

Bob is a 45-year-old man who was recently diagnosed with Hepatitis C after donating blood at his local blood bank. He was quite shocked to hear this because he was feeling fine, and he had no idea how he could have gotten it. In fact, he wasn't even very familiar with what it was.

Hepatitis C is a virus that causes inflammation of the liver, or hepatitis. Just like Bob, a person with a Hepatitis C infection usually doesn't have any symptoms. Some people will develop symptoms several weeks to months after being infected. Symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and lethargy. These sound pretty similar to any type of gastrointestinal or flu illness, right? Additional symptoms may include joint pain, dark urine, gray-colored stools, and yellow-tinged skin, or jaundice.

The symptoms are fairly vague, so most people don't seek further medical care and therefore are not diagnosed with Hepatitis C. A small percentage of people will fully recover and completely clear the virus from their system without treatment. More often, however, chronic Hepatitis C develops. This means that the virus continues past six months and often, for a lifetime.

Many people with Hepatitis C remain without symptoms for decades. They are eventually diagnosed with Hepatitis C when they start having symptoms of advanced liver damage.

This information helped Bob to understand his liver disease better, but he started having more questions.

How Is it Transmitted? Is it Preventable?

Hepatitis C is a bloodborne pathogen, meaning that it is present in the blood and passed from one person to another through contact with blood. The vast majority of Hepatitis C infections are transmitted through injectable drug use. If a person with Hepatitis C shares a needle with another person to inject drugs, he or she will pass the virus on to the other person.

Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Hep C can also be spread from medical equipment if healthcare settings are not adequately sterilized or if items, such as needles, are reused. The virus can be passed from an infected mother to her baby during childbirth as well. The virus is not transmitted through breastfeeding, though. Prior to 1992, there was also a risk of transmitting Hepatitis C through receiving a blood transfusion. Since that time, donated blood is now screened to prevent the transmission of viruses. Since Hepatitis C is spread through exposure to infected blood, it is possible to be spread through sexual intercourse although it is less common because there may not be exposure to blood.

Unfortunately, there is not a vaccine to prevent Hepatitis C. There are other types of hepatitis viral infections, however, that do have vaccines to prevent them.

Bob feels a little relieved knowing there wasn't anything he could have done to prevent his infection. He never used drugs, but he did have a blood transfusion in the late 1970s and is wondering if that is how he contracted Hepatitis C.

Treatment for Hepatitis C

The goal of treatment for Hepatitis C is to cure it. In fact, it is highly curable with antiviral medications. More than 95% of cases could be cured with the use of antiviral medications. Currently the preferred medications to treat Hepatitis C include sofosbuvir, daclatasvir, and a sofosbuvir-ledipasvir combination.

If it's highly curable, then why do almost 400,000 people die every year from Hepatitis C? Because Hepatitis C is usually asymptomatic, most people do not know they have it or seek treatment. When they finally do seek treatment, it is generally because the liver damage is so severe; curing it is much less likely at that point.

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