What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a serious liver infection caused by several types (genotypes) of hepatitis C virus. It is important to find, because this disease can lead to liver cancer, liver failure, or cirrhosis, a condition causing scarring of the liver. Most people who are exposed to the virus might not be able to get rid of it, but instead have a long-term (chronic) infection that might only be found years later when liver inflammation and scarring occur. This infection deserves immediate attention because it can be diagnosed with blood tests, and treatments are available.
How common is hepatitis C in Vietnam, and who is at risk?
In Vietnam, hepatitis C is more common than in some other countries around the world. In some studies, 1.5% to 3.5% of all Vietnamese people may be infected with hepatitis C. However, certain groups of people are at even higher risk for having hepatitis C. This includes people who share needles during intravenous (IV) drug use; has sex with numerous people; works in the health care environment; received blood transfusions in the past; or are on dialysis.
How do I get hepatitis C and what symptoms would I have?
Hepatitis C is spread by body fluids; for example, by sexual contact, sharing needles; and needle sticks among health care workers. Symptoms range from mild to severe. Symptoms include abdominal pain, fever, yellowing of skin and eyes (jaundice), weakness or fatigue (low energy), fever, and dark urine. However, many people do not notice symptoms of infection for many years until the liver is completely scarred (cirrhosis) and symptoms of liver failure develop. Having cirrhosis also puts you at risk for developing liver cancer.
Can I prevent hepatitis C?
The best way to avoid this infection is to avoid being exposed to it: 1) avoid sex with people who have hepatitis C, and 2) using drugs with needles. There are no vaccines that can prevent hepatitis C.
What tests are there for hepatitis C?
To diagnose hepatitis C, blood tests can check whether you have the virus in your blood; how many viruses are in your blood; and your immune system’s response to the virus (antibodies). It is not possible to diagnose hepatitis C infection without blood tests.
I am diagnosed with hepatitis C, what happens next?
Your doctor may need more blood tests to see if other infections are present; for example, your doctor may have to test your kidney and liver functions; recommend radiology tests to better see the liver; or perform a liver biopsy to see if there is any scarring present. These tests are important because this information helps your doctor decide if you would be someone who needs treatment soon, or if monitoring would be safe. If liver inflammation and scarring are mild, and blood virus levels are low, your doctor may suggest checking blood tests regularly to make sure the disease does not get worse.
There are several treatments for hepatitis C. The medication your doctor will prescribe to you depend on which virus is being treated (genotype 1 to 6). These medications include:
– Antiviral medications: these medications attack the virus to prevent liver damage from happening and include sofosbuvir and ledipasvir (Harvoni), paritaprevir, ritonavir, and ombitasvir (Viekira Pak), grazoprevir and elbasvir (Zepatier), or ribavirin. Your doctor can help to figure out which medications are the right options.
– Pegylated interferon is a treatment using a substance similar to one produced by the body to fight off infection
If your liver has severe scarring, then liver transplant may be an option.
Note: Anyone with hepatitis C infection should also get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B as well as other viruses that causes liver infections that are common in Vietnam.
My doctor said I should consider being in a “clinical study.” What is a clinical study?
Scientists work to cure diseases, and new medications are being developed to treat hepatitis B infection. A clinical study is research using human volunteers; it is intended to add to medical knowledge, and can involve 1) only collecting information over time (observational) or 2) a medication or other treatment (interventional or experimental). For some people, the current medications may not be an option (or the best choice), so clinical studies may help allow access to other treatments. If this is an option being considered, then talk to your doctor and the study developers to learn more about the clinical study design and whether it is right for you.
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