You may have not known you had hepatitis C until you were diagnosed– many people do not feel sick or show signs. Being diagnosed with hepatitis C can feel scary, but there has been a lot of advancement in treatment options and effectiveness. Your primary care doctor or specialist may have already talked to you about these important factors related to your diagnosis, but if not, make sure you ask.
Know you’re not alone.
First, consider how you contracted the disease. There are a few ways in which you may have gotten infected, including:
- Being a current or past injection drug user
- Receiving blood products and/or organs prior to 1992
- Getting tattoos or body piercing with non-sterile instruments
- Being a healthcare worker injured by needlestick
- Blood contact with HIV-infected people
- Being born with a mother who has chronic hepatitis C
- Having sexual contact with an individual who has chronic hepatitis C (although risk of transmission is <1%)
Know Your Genotype
There as six strains, or subtypes, of chronic hepatitis C. They are numbered 1-6, and are known as your genotype. It is important to be aware of your genotype, as it will dictate which treatment you are best suited for.
In addition to genotype, it is important to know the degree of liver damage your liver has sustained. This can be determined several ways. Your doctor may request a liver biopsy, but there are several new tests that have been shown to be equally effective and are not as invasive. One is called FibroScan, which is an elastography test. It is similar to an ultrasound of the liver. This test can be quite accurate; however, they are not readily available in every clinic setting. Additional tests frequently used are known as ‘FibroSURE’ or ‘fibrometer’ test. They are approximately 85% accurate in determining liver damage with a simple blood draw. Either of these tests can be ordered by primary care provider or through a liver specialist.
Disease progression of the liver typically occurs in approximately 1/3 of individuals with chronic hepatitis C. There are four stages, numbered 1-4. Stage one is significant for minimal fibrosis or scarring of the liver; stage four is synonymous with cirrhosis. Disease typically progresses from one stage to the next at a rate of once every 8-10 years. If you have stage three or stage four of the disease, it is important to get screened for liver cancer, since you are at increased risk in acquiring. The American Association in the Study of Liver Disease (AASLD), recommends screening with an ultrasound of the liver every 6 months.
There is no cure for hepatitis C at this time, but research is ongoing to find the best treatment possible. In the past, treatment regimens were proud to boast 50% cure rates; we have reached a point where cures can be as high as 95%. One of the greatest challenges patients now face is the cost of treatment, and how to gain access to drug. For more information on this, speak with your primary care doctor or have them set up an appointment with a liver specialist. In the meantime, consider that out of every 100 people infected with the Hepatitis C virus, approximately:
- 75–85 people will develop chronic Hepatitis C virus infection; of those,
- 60–70 people will go on to develop chronic liver disease
- 5–20 people will go on to develop cirrhosis over a period of 20–30 years
- 1–5 people will die from cirrhosis or liver cancer