Initial infection with hepatitis C virus is called acute hepatitis C.
In some people, the body is able to clear the virus without treatment.
However, most people develop chronic hepatitis C—a lifelong
disease that can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer. An
estimated 3.2 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis
C. A recent study estimated that more than 15,000 people died in 2007
due to hepatitis C or its complications.
Most people with hepatitis C do not have symptoms until cirrhosis or
late-stage liver disease develops. Symptoms may include fever, fatigue,
loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine or
clay-colored stool, joint pain, or jaundice.
Several blood tests are used to test for hepatitis C.
A screening test often is done first. Screening tests check for
antibodies to the virus.
If antibodies are detected, a second test is needed to determine
whether the virus is gone or still present, because antibodies
remain in the blood even if the virus has been cleared.
If chronic hepatitis C is diagnosed, further tests are done to
determine the level of virus in the body, the state of
infection, and the specific genotype of hepatitis C virus that
is present. This information is important for deciding whether
to pursue treatment and for planning and carrying out treatment.
For each patient with hepatitis C, it is important to weigh the pros and
cons of treatment with antiviral therapy. Our specialists carefully
consider all factors together with each patient. Treatment
recommendations are based on current guidelines from the American
Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD).
The aims of antiviral therapy are to permanently clear the virus
from the body, stop or slow damage to the liver, and prevent
cirrhosis and liver cancer. Response to antiviral therapy has
generally been better in patients with genotype 2 or 3 than in
those with genotype 1. However, combination treatment with new
medications is changing that trend, with higher response now
possible in people with genotype 1.
As per AASLD guidelines, patients with genotype 1 receive
combination therapy with 3 medications, and patients with
genotype 2 or 3 receive combination therapy with 2 medications.
The cure rate with these treatments is 70% to 80% in patients
with genotype 1 and up to 90% in patients with genotype 2 or 3.
Patients also receive education about liver-related injury from
alcohol, job-related exposures, sexually transmitted diseases,
and other forms of viral hepatitis (hepatitis A or B). Those
with cirrhosis or advanced fibrosis are screened for liver
cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma).
No vaccine is available to prevent hepatitis C, but research is underway
to develop one.
For more information, call 1.866.CALL.MLH.