Sunday, March 25, 2007

Hepatitis C Overview

Hepatitis C is a serious, possibly life-threatening disease of the liver. The disease occurs due to infection with HCV (hepatitis C virus) and it can be either acute or chronic. An estimated 170.000.000 people worldwide are diagnosed with hepatitis C and around 4.000.000 people in the United States alone are infected with hepatitis C virus. Hepatitis C is commonly acquired through contaminated intravenous injections and prior to 1992, when there were no reliable methods of identifying HCV in blood products, the main cause of infection was blood transfusion. After 1992, the risk of contracting hepatitis C virus has been considerably reduced, as new effective means of checking blood products for HCV became available.

Nowadays, the main cause of hepatitis C transmission is the use of inappropriately sterilized syringes or other medical instruments. Hepatitis C can also be sexually-acquired and rarely, the disease can be transmitted from mother to infant. Drug addicts are considered to be exposed to a high risk of contracting hepatitis C, as they commonly share needles and syringes. Sexual promiscuity and the lack of sexual protection are also considered to be causes of hepatitis C transmission, as the disease can be acquired by exchanging body secretions. Although there are very few cases of mother to infant infection, prenatal transmission of hepatitis C is also possible.

The majority of people who suffer from acute hepatitis C can in time develop chronic forms of the disease. Chronic hepatitis C has a pronounced recidivating character and it needs ongoing medical treatment in order to be effectively overcome. The physical symptoms presented by people with hepatitis C are various and it is difficult to diagnose the disease relying only on clinical examinations. In many cases, blood analyses and liver biopsy are required in establishing a correct diagnose. The evolution of hepatitis C is also considered to be very problematic. The progression of the disease is unpredictable and while some patients with acute hepatitis C have mild, almost unperceivable symptoms and don’t develop chronic forms of the disease, other patients experience a rapid aggravation of hepatitis C, developing cirrhosis and even end-stage liver disease.

Cirrhosis is a common complication that occurs in patients with hepatitis C, requiring liver transplant and intense post-surgery medical treatment. Furthermore, the majority people with cirrhosis can in time develop liver cancer, which accounts for an overwhelmingly large number of deaths each year.

It is very important to timely discover the presence of hepatitis C, as the disease tends to become chronic in the absence of appropriate medical treatment. If the disease is discovered in its incipient stages, hepatitis C can be successfully overcome with the medical treatments available today. However, if the patients have already developed complications by the time they are diagnosed with the disease, liver transplant may be the sole option available. Considering the fact that hepatitis C is a life-threatening disease, it is best to take steps in preventing its occurrence in the first place. In order to minimize the risk of infection with hepatitis C virus, be careful not to expose yourself to un-sterilized medical instruments or to blood products of doubtful origin.

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By: Groshan Fabiola
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