What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). HCV infection can be of 2 types: acute (short-term) illness and chronic (long-term, 6 months or more) illness. 

What is the burden of Hepatitis C in India?

  • Approximately 1 crore people are living with HCV infection of which 80% are not aware about their infection status.
  • Most people who go on to develop chronic HCV infection do not display any symptoms, till the disease has progressed to an advanced level like liver damage (cirrhosis) and liver cancer.

How does Hepatitis C infection spreads?

HCV is transmitted through activities that involve contact with HCV infected blood or body fluids including:

  • Injection of drug that involves sharing needles, syringes, or drug-preparation equipment of infected person.
  • The transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products
  • Needle stick injuries in health care settings
  • Infrequent modes of transmission are: sexual contacts with HCV-infected partner, sharing of personal items contaminated with infected blood, such as razors or toothbrushes, Invasive health care procedures and tattooing with infected needle/ink.

Can a person spread Hepatitis C and does not know about it?

Yes. Majority of person with Hepatitis C infection do not know that they are infected since they do not have any symptoms. The virus quietly stays in the liver and multiplies. However, these people can act as “carrier” and can spread the virus to spouses, household contacts and other population group through above mentioned routes.

What are the ways through which Hepatitis C infection does not spread?

HCV infection does not spread through:

  • Food or water
  • By casual contact such as hugging, kissing and sharing food or drinks with an infected person.
  • Breastfeeding, unless there is an injury or open wound or ulcer on/near nipple.

Who is ‘at risk’ for Hepatitis C infection?

  • Person who inject drugs
  • Recipients of blood products (before 2001)
  • Children born to mothers infected with HCV
  • Person with sexual partners who are infected with HCV
  • Unsafe sexual practices
  • Men who have sex with men, Female sex workers, Transgenders
  • Person with HIV infection
  • Prisoners
  • Person who have had body piercing or tattoos from unlicensed parlors

Who should be screened for Hepatitis C infection?

The above-mentioned population ‘at risk’ should be screened for Hepatitis C infection. 

Should general population be screened even if they don’t have any symptoms?

Yes. Most people with Hepatitis C don’t have any symptoms. However, liver damage can still occur. Screening for Hepatitis C will help in early diagnosis and treatment. This will also help the person to prevent liver damages such as cirrhosis and liver cancer.

What are the tests available for screening of a person for Hepatitis C infection?

Anti-HCV antibody test is used to screen person for HCV infection. If found positive, HCV-RNA is done to confirm the infection.

What are the signs and symptoms of Hepatitis C infection?

Person with newly acquired HCV infection usually are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms. Signs and symptoms of acute HCV infections include following:

  • Jaundice
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored stool
  • Abdominal and Joint pain
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

How does getting tested for Hepatitis C helps in protecting the person and his/her family members? 

  • Early diagnosis of Hepatitis C can help the person to access the medical treatment at an early stage and can prevent liver damage.
  • The person tested positive for Hepatitis C can undertake necessary precautions to prevent spread of HCV to others.
  • Family members of Hepatitis C patients are at high risk of having the HCV infection. Hence, person with Hepatitis C must encourage their family members to get screened for Hepatitis C.

Is there a vaccine available against Hepatitis C?

No. Presently, there is no vaccine available against Hepatitis C.

Is HCV infection curable?

  • HCV infection is curable after 12 weeks of treatment
  • Treatment for HCV infection is widely available.

What is to be done if the person has Hepatitis C?

  • Visit the nearest Health care facility and consult a doctor for advice.
  • Use of alcohol should be avoided because it can cause additional liver damage.
  • A healthy lifestyle should be adopted including regular physical activity and avoidance of food rich in fats.