Hepatitis C, Hep C, or HCV is a blood borne virus that causes inflammation of the liver. If left untreated it can result in liver failure, liver cancer, cirrhosis of the liver and even death in some cases. It is a relative of Hepatitis A and B but have different unique aspects and qualities that separate them distinctly.
Hepatitis C affects approximately between 2-3 million people in the Unites States, of that number close to 85% are infected with chronic form of Hep C which can lead to serious complications down the road. Hepatitis C is fairly common among the baby boomer generation where the rate of infection was at its highest in recorded history between the time period of the 1970’s and early 1980’s.
Higher Rate of Hep C in Drug Addicted Individuals
Hepatitis C is fairly common amongst individuals with substance abuse issues. Especially at risk are people who share infected needles. Because it is so contagious it is important that if you engage in risky activity like sharing needles with someone who might possibly be infected with Hep C that you take the proper precautions. Many people who are infected with Hep C don’t necessarily even know they are infected as the virus may not present symptoms and side-effects until years ahead in the future.
Although rare, it is possible to transmit the virus through having unprotected sex and sharing the same toothbrush and razor blades. It is important to take extra special care to avoid and reduce risky behaviors that promote the likelihood of acquiring the virus. If you are sexually active making sure to practice safe sex, and if currently using drugs making sure to never use the same needle twice. It is even possible to transmit the drug to yourself using either needles or razor blades with blood that has been left to oxidize from external pathogens in the environment.
Side-Effects of Hepatitis C
Although it can take some significant time (even decades in some cases) for symptoms to present themselves in acute cases of Hep C infection typical onset of symptoms begins in 6-7 weeks. If you are abusing your liver with alcohol and other drugs it can accelerate the process. Despite not having any outward physical symptoms associated with Hep C you still may transmit the virus into others. Typical symptoms experienced by people with acute and chronic Hep C infections are the following:
- Joint Pain
- Dark Urine
- Abdominal Pain
- Reduced Appetite
- Clay-Colored Stool
What to do if You Suspect You May Have Been Infected with Dirty Needles
The good news is that if you are infected with Hep C there are a variety of options at your disposal should you seek treatment for the condition. Doctors will submit you to a battery of tests to ascertain how severe the degree of infection is and what are the best measures to combat inflammation in the liver. Since the virus behaves differently in different types of people there is no one treatment that fits all approach to eradicating the virus. There is no cure unfortunately, however a number of procedures available that can reduce your chances of experiencing any severe symptoms.
The goal behind treatment of Hep C infection is to achieve sustained virologic response (SVR) which essentially means the virus no longer shows up in blood work done after 6 months of treatment. Drugs like Interferon, for example inhibit the expression of the virus in the body rendering it virtually invalid and incapable of any real harm. The best thing you can do is talk to your doctor to figure out the best course of treatment suitable for your needs. The most at risk people for Hep C infection are the following:
- Current and former drug users
- HIV Infected Individuals
- Baby Boomers (b. 1945-1965)
- Blood Transfusion recipients prior to 1992
- People with multiple sex partners
- Medical workers exposed to blood and bodily fluids
The best thing you can do to avoid a Hep C infection is to take as many preventative measures as possible. Taking preemptive action is the best way to mitigate your exposure by practicing safe habits and good hygiene. Living a healthy, clean and sober life is the best step in avoiding Hep C complications that can potentially be life-threatening. Caution should be administered around any open wounds where blood is present.