Hepatitis C is a viral liver disorder caused by infection with Hepatitis C virus.
Infection with HCV causes acute hepatitis, but the symptoms are generally mild and rarely noticed. There is a high probability of approximately 70% that it will progress to chronic hepatitis.
Chronic hepatitis means the inflammation of the liver continues and liver tissues become hard, resulting in a condition called cirrhosis over a long period of time. There are almost no symptoms until the early stage of liver cirrhosis, but when fibrosis progresses and normal tissue decreases, the following symptoms will appear: fatigue, anorexia, jaundice, ascites, esophageal varices, splenomegaly, and hepatic encephalopathy (decrease of concentration, coma). The risk of developing liver cancer increases as the fibrosis progresses.
Route of infection and prevention
Hepatitis C virus is transmitted through blood and body fluids containing blood.
Main causes of infection are used to be mother-to-child infection, blood transfusion, accidental needle sticks by medical staff, and reusing of syringes, but risks are decreased and is almost eliminated with appropriate measures done in entire Japan. For current route of infection that are seen are through sexual activity. Another route is when piercings or tattoos device is being repeatedly used without sterilization.
Do not share everyday items such as toothbrushes and shavings with blood, wash them or wrap and discard them. Do not perform medical procedures in facilities with poor sanitation. If a pregnant woman have hepatitis C, it may be transmitted through the blood in the birth canal during the delivery, which composed 5-10% of the cases.
If you inject recreational drugs, always use a clean needle and do not share with others. Be aware that illegal drug use are strictly prohibited by law, and it is subject to severe punishment.
Sexual activity rarely causes Hepatitis C infection, but it has been increasing in the recent years. Anal sex is a risk factor because it is thought that it may be transmitted by sexual activity that easily causes bleeding. It is known that bile and feces contain a relatively high proportion of hepatitis C virus. Therefore, the use of condoms is considered important for prevention.
Harm reduction measures that provide clean syringes to prevent infection of HIV and HCV are conducted in many countries, but this kind of strategy is not yet implemented in Japan, where HIV or HCV infection via contaminated needles and syringes are rare.
There are two types of blood tests to test for hepatitis C virus. Antibody is examined as this is produced when the virus enters the body, and an HCV-RNA test is used to detect the gene RNA of the virus.
If you have previously been infected, antibody tests will be positive even after you have been treated. HCV-RNA tests are usually performed on people who tested positive for antibodies, to determine whether they are currently still infected with hepatitis C virus.
There are two types of treatment for hepatitis C: antiviral therapy, which eliminates the virus from the body, and liver protection therapy, which protects the liver and suppresses progression if the virus cannot be eliminated for some reason. In recent years, antiviral therapy has made great progress, and oral antiviral drugs have a high probability of eliminating viruses.
If the infection does not become chronic and the virus cures naturally, no treatment will be needed.
A specialist doctor will decide the treatment plan such as whether the patient is chronic or antiviral therapy should be administered. If you are suspected of being infected with hepatitis C virus during a regular medical examination, please seek medical care as soon as possible.