There’s a reason why hepatitis C is known as “the silent killer.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 58 million people around the world have chronic hepatitis C. But an astonishing 75% of people who have the virus aren’t aware they have it.
Hepatitis C is a bloodborne virus that causes inflammation of the liver. It can be either acute or chronic:
- Acute Hepatitis C: often exhibits no symptoms at all. Any symptoms may appear within a week or two of exposure and could clear up on their own within a few weeks.
- Chronic Hepatitis C: can develop and worsen over a period of months or years. Symptoms might not be apparent until they are severe.
So, is hepatitis C curable?
Yes, it is.
Read on to find out more about hepatitis C symptoms, treatment and more.
How is Hepatitis C Caused?
Wondering how hepatitis c is caused? Here’s an explainer.
Since hepatitis C is a bloodborne virus, that means it’s transmitted through blood-to-blood contact. In other words, if the blood from someone with hepatitis C comes into contact with your blood. Hepatitis C transmission can happen through:
- Organ transplants
- Sharing razors, toothbrushes, and needles
- Childbirth (transmitted from the mother to the child)
- Sexual intercourse
- Getting a tattoo or piercing with non-sterile equipment
It is also possible to contract the virus again if you’ve had it before.
Prior to 1992, blood transfusions were considered a highly likely method of transmitting the virus. Thanks to medical advancement, the chances of contracting the virus from transfusions today are far lower.
You may have a higher risk for transmission if:
- You had a blood transfusion prior to 1992
- You received an organ transplant before 1992
- You received clotting factor concentrates or other blood products before 1987
- You received hemodialysis treatment for a long period
- You were born to a mother with hepatitis C
- You had a sexual partner with hepatitis C
- You’ve used nonsterile needles
You won’t transmit hepatitis C by:
- Sharing food and drinks
- Coughing and sneezing
- Hugging, kissing and touching
- Nursing your baby
Hepatitis C Symptoms
Not everyone who contracts the hepatitis C virus will experience symptoms.
About 80% of people don’t notice any signs of illness when they first contract the virus. Any symptoms that do develop may vary – depending on whether your condition is acute or chronic.
So, how do the symptoms of each vary?
Acute Hepatitis C:
Acute infections occur within 6 months of encountering the virus. Symptoms could surface anywhere between 2 and 12 weeks after exposure to the virus.
If you have acute hepatitis C, you might experience:
- Stomach pain
- Lingering fatigue
- Joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Dark urine
- Gray or pale stools
- Jaundice – when the whites of your eyes and skin become yellowish
Acute hepatitis C cases are often mild and last only a few weeks. Sometimes your body can fight off the infection on its own, so you might not even need medical treatment in the case of acute hepatitis C.
If you aren’t exhibiting any symptoms, you might not realize you have the infection. But you can still transmit the virus to others, even when you’re asymptomatic.
Chronic Hepatitis C:
Acute hepatitis C will become chronic if your body doesn’t clear the hepatitis C virus.
Between 55 and 85 percent of people who contract hepatitis C will eventually develop chronic hepatitis C.
Chronic hepatitis C won’t go away on its own, and if left untreated, can cause serious even-life threatening health complications, such as:
- Cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
- Liver failure
- Liver cancer
Signs of chronic hepatitis C include:
- Persistent tiredness
- General feelings of not being well
- Aches and pains in joints and muscles
- Unexplained weight loss
- Mood changes, including feelings of depression or anxiety
- Trouble concentrating or remembering things
These symptoms could be present most of the time, or they might improve for a while and worsen again.
In addition, you could also notice some of the symptoms of liver scarring and liver disease:
- Stomach pain
- Swelling in feet and legs
- Itchy skin
- Dark urine
- Difficulty sleeping
- Trouble with memory and concentrating
Similarly, to acute hepatitis C, the chronic form won’t always exhibit clear symptoms. But early treatment is essential. Most people living with the virus only experience mild symptoms or won’t have any symptoms at all until they develop serious liver damage or another life-threatening liver condition. When treatment is delayed until the later stages, often irreversible liver damage has occurred.
Is Hepatitis C Curable?
You might be wondering if there is a hepatitis c vaccine?
Unlike hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C as yet.
However, both acute and chronic hepatitis C infections can often be completely cured. Keep in mind you can still contract the virus again.
Hepatitis C treatment involves antiviral medications, which can successfully cure hepatitis C 95% of the time. You are considered cured according to healthcare professionals when tests can’t detect the virus in your blood 12 weeks after treatment ends.
Not everyone with the virus will need treatment though. Sometimes your immune system may be able to fight infection well enough to clear the virus from your body.
Past treatment regimens required weekly injections with many negative side effects. Newer antiviral medications are often successful at treating the virus. These come in pill form and cause very few side effects – but you’ll need to continue treatment for 12-14 weeks.
Medications for Hepatitis C:
Medication called direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) work to fully remove the hepatitis C virus from your body while helping prevent liver damage at the same time. A few brand names include:
There are six different genotypes or strains of hepatitis C – once your doctor has identified your genotype, they’ll have a better idea of which medication will work for you.
How Hepatitis C Differs From A, B, D & E
Hepatitis refers to an inflammatory condition of the liver – it’s commonly the result of a viral infection – but there are other possible causes of hepatitis.
Including, autoimmune hepatitis and hepatitis caused as a secondary result of drugs, toxins, and alcohol.
There are five main viral classifications of hepatitis: Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. Each type has its own specific virus that spreads and is treated differently.
- Hepatitis A: The result of an infection with the hepatitis A virus (HAV). This type is an acute, short-term disease and doesn’t require treatment.
- Hepatitis B: Caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV) and is often an ongoing, chronic condition. It hides deep in the body, like Hep C.
- Hepatitis C: Comes from the hepatitis C virus (HCV) and typically presents as a long-term condition.
- Hepatitis D: A rare form of hepatitis that only occurs in conjunction with the hepatitis B infection. The hepatitis D virus (HDV) causes liver inflammation like other types, but a person can’t contract HDV without an existing hepatitis B infection.
- Hepatitis E: This is a waterborne disease that results from exposure to the hepatitis E virus (HEV). It’s mainly found in areas with poor sanitation and can be caused by ingesting fecal matter contaminating the water supply. Usually acute but can be particularly dangerous in pregnant women.
All these viruses are different but should be taken seriously since they can lead to significant liver disease and even death.
Now that you know the answer to “is hepatitis C curable?” and other important things about the virus – if you think you are exhibiting any of these symptoms, or feel you may have transmitted it make sure you get tested as soon as possible.
Can You Live Long with Hep C?
Yes. People with Hep C can live many years after diagnosis, but it varies. A study found that patients infected with hepatitis C died on average 15 years sooner than people who don’t have the virus.
Is Hepatitis B or C Worse?
Although Hep C gets more attention and research funding, hepatitis B is more common and causes more liver-related cancer and death worldwide than hepatitis C. Combined, chronic hepatitis B and C account for around 80% of the world’s liver cancer cases.
Can You Kiss Someone with Hep C?
No. Hep C is not transmitted by sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing, or sneezing.
What Does Hep C Pain Feel Like?
Hepatitis C can cause generalized abdominal pain that can result in severe discomfort. Many people with chronic HCV also suffer from aches and pains in their joints, particularly the hands and wrists.
What Happens If Hep C Goes Untreated?
If left untreated, hepatitis C can cause serious health problems, including liver damage, cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer, and even death.