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Hepatitis C Support Forum: HCV
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Last Message  32 months ago

Forum for all talk related to Hepatitis C .... You can share your story and your experience, ask questions, give answers, support others or get support.

Hepatitis C is a disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). You may be at risk for hepatitis C if you:

were notified that you received blood from a donor who later tested positive for hepatitis C.
have ever injected illegal drugs, even if you experimented a few times many years ago
received a blood transfusion or solid organ transplant before July, 1992
were a recipient of clotting factor(s) made before 1987
have ever been on long-term kidney dialysis
have evidence of liver disease (e.g., persistently abnormal ALT levels)



Is there a vaccine for the prevention of HCV infection? No.



What blood tests are available to check for hepatitis C?

There are several blood tests that can be done to determine if you have been infected with HCV. Your doctor may order just one or a combination of these tests. The following are the types of tests your doctor may order and the purpose for each:

a) Anti-HCV (antibody to HCV)
EIA (enzyme immunoassay) or CIA (enhanced chemiluminescence immunoassay)
Test is usually done first. If positive, it should be confirmed

RIBA (recombinant immunoblot assay)
A supplemental test used to confirm a positive EIA test

Anti-HCV does not tell whether the infection is new (acute), chronic (long-term) or is no longer present.

b) Qualitative tests to detect presence or absence of virus (HCV RNA)

c) Quantitative tests to detect amount (titer) of virus (HCV RNA)

A single positive PCR test indicates infection with HCV. A single negative test does not prove that a person is not infected. Virus may be present in the blood and just not found by PCR. Also, a person infected in the past who has recovered may have a negative test. When hepatitis C is suspected and PCR is negative, PCR should be repeated.


Can you have a "false positive" anti-HCV test result?

Yes. A false positive test means the test looks as if it is positive, but it is really negative. This happens more often in persons who have a low risk for the disease for which they are being tested. For example, false positive anti-HCV tests happen more often in persons such as blood donors who are at low risk for hepatitis C. Therefore, it is important to confirm a positive anti-HCV test with a supplemental test as most false positive anti-HCV tests are reported as negative on supplemental testing. Click here for more information on Guidelines for Laboratory Testing and Result Reporting of Antibody to Hepatitis C Virus.

Can you have a "false negative" anti-HCV test result?

Yes. Persons with early infection may not as yet have developed antibody levels high enough that the test can measure. In addition, some persons may lack the (immune) response necessary for the test to work well. In these persons, research-based tests such as PCR may be considered.


How long after exposure to HCV does it take to test positive for anti-HCV?

Anti-HCV can be found in 7 out of 10 persons when symptoms begin and in about 9 out of 10 persons within 3 months after symptoms begin. However, it is important to note that many persons who have hepatitis C have no symptoms.


How long after exposure to HCV does it take to test positive with PCR?

It is possible to find HCV within 1 to 2 weeks after being infected with the virus.



Who should get tested for hepatitis C?

persons who ever injected illegal drugs, including those who injected once or a few times many years ago
persons who were treated for clotting problems with a blood product made before 1987 when more advanced methods for manufacturing the products were developed
persons who were notified that they received blood from a donor who later tested positive for hepatitis C
persons who received a blood transfusion or solid organ transplant before July 1992 when better testing of blood donors became available
long-term hemodialysis patients
persons who have signs or symptoms of liver disease (e.g., abnormal liver enzyme tests)
healthcare workers after exposures (e.g., needle sticks or splashes to the eye ) to HCV-positive blood on the job
children born to HCV-positive women


What is the next step if you have a confirmed positive anti-HCV test?

Measure the level of ALT ( alanine aminotransferase, a liver enzyme) in the blood. An elevated ALT indicates inflammation of the liver and you should be checked further for chronic (long-term) liver disease and possible treatment. The evaluation should be done by a healthcare professional familiar with chronic hepatitis C.


Can you have a normal liver enzyme (e.g., ALT) level and still have chronic hepatitis C?

Yes. It is common for persons with chronic hepatitis C to have a liver enzyme level that goes up and down, with periodic returns to normal or near normal. Some persons have a liver enzyme level that is normal for over a year but they still have chronic liver disease. If the liver enzyme level is normal, persons should have their enzyme level re-checked several times over a 6 to 12 month period. If the liver enzyme level remains normal, your doctor may check it less frequently, such as once a year.



Can I donate blood if I have had any type of viral hepatitis?

If you had any type of viral hepatitis since aged 11 years, you are not eligible to donate blood. In addition, if you ever tested positive for hepatitis B or hepatitis C, at any age, you are not eligible to donate, even if you were never sick or jaundiced from the infection.




How is HCV spread from one person to another?

How could a person have gotten hepatitis C?
HCV is spread primarily by direct contact with human blood. For example, you may have gotten infected with HCV if:

you ever injected street drugs, as the needles and/or other drug "works" used to prepare or inject the drug(s) may have had someone else's blood that contained HCV on them.
you received blood, blood products, or solid organs from a donor whose blood contained HCV.
you were ever on long-term kidney dialysis as you may have unknowingly shared supplies/equipment that had someone else's blood on them.
you were ever a healthcare worker and had frequent contact with blood on the job, especially accidental needlesticks.
your mother had hepatitis C at the time she gave birth to you. During the birth her blood may have gotten into your body.
you ever had sex with a person infected with HCV.
you lived with someone who was infected with HCV and shared items such as razors or toothbrushes that might have had his/her blood on them.


How long can HCV live outside the body and transmit infection?

Recent studies suggest that HCV may survive on environmental surfaces at room temperature at least 16 hours, but no longer than 4 days.



What do you use to remove HCV from environmental surfaces?

You should clean up any blood spills - including dried blood, which can still be infectious - using 1:10 dilution of one part household bleach to 10 parts of water for disinfecting the area. Use gloves when cleaning up any blood spills.



Is there any evidence that HCV has been spread during medical or
dental procedures done in the United States?

Medical and dental procedures done in the United States generally do not pose a risk for the spread of HCV. However, there have been a few situations in which HCV has been spread between patients when supplies or equipment were shared between them.


Can HCV be spread by sexual activity?

Yes, but this does not occur very often. See section below on counseling for more information on hepatitis C and sexual activity.



Can HCV be spread by oral sex?

There is no evidence that HCV has been spread by oral sex. See section on counseling for more information on hepatitis C and sexual activity.


Can HCV be spread within a household?

Yes, but this does not occur very often. If HCV is spread within a household, it is most likely due to direct exposure to the blood of an infected household member.



Can you get Hepatitis C from getting a tattoo?

Although biologically possible when poor infection control practices are used, there is no evidence that hepatitis C virus (HCV) has been spread through tattooing. For more information...



Since more advanced tests have been developed for use in blood banks, what is the chance now that a person can get HCV infection from transfused blood or blood products?

Less than 1 chance per 2 million units transfused.



Is it possible that HCV could be transmitted through the bite of a mosquito or other blood sucking arthropods, especially in third world countries?

Hepatitis C virus has not been shown to be transmitted by mosquitoes or other arthropods.


Pregnancy and Breast feeding


Should pregnant women be routinely tested for anti-HCV? No.

Pregnant women have no greater risk of being infected with HCV then non-pregnant women. If pregnant women have risk factors for hepatitis C, they should be tested for anti-HCV.



What is the risk that HCV infected women will spread HCV to their newborn infants?

About 4 out of every 100 infants born to HCV infected women become infected. This occurs at the time of birth, and there is no treatment that can prevent this from happening. Most infants infected with HCV at the time of birth have no symptoms and do well during childhood. More studies are needed to find out if these children will have problems from the infection as they grow older.



Is there a greater risk of perinatal HCV transmission if the
mother is coinfected with HIV?

Yes, if the mother is coinfected with HIV, the rate of perinatal transmission can be as high as 19%.



Should a woman with hepatitis C be advised against breast-feeding?
No. There is no evidence that breast-feeding spreads HCV. HCV-positive mothers should consider abstaining from breast-feeding if their nipples are cracked or bleeding.


When should babies born to mothers with hepatitis C be tested to see if they were infected at birth?
Children should not be tested for anti-HCV before 18 months of age as anti-HCV from the mother might last until this age. If diagnosis is desired prior to 18 months of age, testing for HCV RNA could be performed at or after an infant's first well-child visit at age 1-2 months. HCV RNA testing should then be repeated at a subsequent visit independent of the initial HCV RNA test result.



Counseling


How can persons infected with HCV prevent spreading HCV to others?

Do not donate blood, body organs, other tissue, or semen.
Do not share personal items that might have your blood on them, such as toothbrushes, dental appliances, nail-grooming equipment or razors.
Cover your cuts and skin sores to keep from spreading HCV.
How can a person protect themselves from getting hepatitis C and other diseases spread by contact with human blood?

Don't ever shoot drugs. If you shoot drugs, stop and get into a treatment program. If you can't stop, never reuse or share syringes, water, or drug works, and get vaccinated against hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
Do not share toothbrushes, razors, or other personal care articles. They might have blood on them.
If you are a healthcare worker, always follow routine barrier precautions and safely handle needles and other sharps. Get vaccinated against hepatitis B
Consider the health risks if you are thinking about getting a tattoo or body piercing: You can get infected if:
the tools that are used have someone else's blood on them.
the artist or piercer doesn't follow good health practices, such as washing hands and using disposable gloves.
HCV can be spread by sex, but this does not occur very often. If you are having sex, but not with one steady partner:

You and your partners can get other diseases spread by having sex (e.g., AIDS, hepatitis B, gonorrhea or chlamydia).
You should use latex condoms correctly and every time. The efficacy of latex condoms in preventing infection with HCV is unknown, but their proper use may reduce transmission.

You should get vaccinated against hepatitis B.
Should patients with hepatitis C change their sexual practices if they have only one long-term steady sex partner? No. There is a very low chance of spreading HCV to that partner through sexual activity. If you want to lower the small chance of spreading HCV to your sex partner, you may decide to use barrier precautions such as latex condoms. The efficacy of latex condoms in preventing infection with HCV is unknown, but their proper use may reduce transmission. Ask your doctor about having your sex partner tested.

What can persons with HCV infection do to protect their liver?

Stop using alcohol.
See your doctor regularly.
Don't start any new medicines or use over-the-counter, herbal, and other medicines without a physician's knowledge.
Get vaccinated against hepatitis A if liver damage is present.
Is there a special diet I should follow if I have hepatitis C?
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs has published educational materials related to diet and Hepatitis C. The VA materials present general dietary guidelines; it may be helpful to review them with a healthcare professional.
They are located at: http://hepatitis.va.gov/vahep?page=tp03-03-05-90.

What other information should patients with hepatitis C be aware of?

HCV is not spread by sneezing, hugging, coughing, food or water, sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses, or casual contact.
Persons should not be excluded from work, school, play, child-care or other settings on the basis of their HCV infection status.
Involvement with a support group may help patients cope with hepatitis C.
Should persons with chronic hepatitis C be vaccinated against hepatitis B?
If persons are in risk groups for whom hepatitis B vaccine is recommended, they should be vaccinated. (A Comprehensive Strategy for Eliminating Transmission in the United States Through Universal Childhood Vaccination)



Long-term Consequences of HCV Infection

What are the chances of persons with HCV infection developing long term infection, chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, liver cancer, or dying as a result of hepatitis C?
Of every 100 persons infected with HCV about:

55-85 of persons might develop long-term infection
70 persons might develop chronic liver disease
5-20 persons might develop cirrhosis over a period of 20 to 30 years
1-5 of persons might die from the consequences of long term infection (liver cancer or cirrhosis)
Hepatitis C is a leading indication for liver transplants.

Do medical conditions outside the liver occur in persons with chronic hepatitis C?
A small percentage of persons with chronic hepatitis C develop medical conditions outside the liver (this is called extrahepatic). These conditions are thought to occur due to the body's natural immune system fighting against itself. Such conditions include: glomerulonephritis, essential mixed cryoglobulinemia, and porphyria cutanea tarda.


Management and Treatment of Chronic Hepatitis C


When might a specialist (gastroenterologist, infectious disease physician, or hepatologist) be consulted in the management of HCV-infected persons?
A referral to or consultation with a specialist for further evaluation and possible treatment may be considered if a person is anti-HCV positive and has elevated liver enzyme levels. Any physician who manages a person with hepatitis C should be knowledgeable and current on all aspects of the care of a person with hepatitis C.

What is the treatment for chronic hepatitis C?
Combination therapy with pegylated interferon and ribavirin is the treatment of choice resulting in sustained response rates of 40%-80%. (up to 50% for patients infected with the most common genotype found in the U.S. [genotype 1] and up to 80% for patients infected with genotypes 2 or 3). Interferon monotherapy is generally reserved for patients in whom ribavirin is contraindicated. Ribavirin, when used alone, does not work. Combination therapy using interferon and ribavirin is now FDA approved for the use in children aged 3-17 years.

What are the side effects of interferon therapy?
Most persons have flu-like symptoms (fever, chills, headache, muscle and joint aches, fast heart rate) early in treatment, but these lessen with continued treatment. Later side effects may include tiredness, hair loss, low blood count, trouble with thinking, moodiness, and depression. Severe side effects are rare (seen in less than 2 out of 100 persons). These include thyroid disease, depression with suicidal thoughts, seizures, acute heart or kidney failure, eye and lung problems, hearing loss, and blood infection. Although rare, deaths have occurred due to liver failure or blood infection, mostly in persons with cirrhosis. An important side effect of interferon is worsening of liver disease with treatment, which can be severe and even fatal. Interferon dosage must be reduced in up to 40 out of 100 persons because of severity of side effects, and treatment must be stopped in up to 15 out of 100 persons. Pregnant women should not be treated with interferon.

What are the side effects of combination (ribavirin + interferon) treatment?
In addition to the side effects due to interferon described above, ribavirin can cause serious anemia (low red blood cell count) and can be a serious problem for persons with conditions that cause anemia, such as kidney failure. In these persons, combination therapy should be avoided or attempts should be made to correct the anemia. Anemia caused by ribavirin can be life-threatening for persons with certain types of heart or blood vessel disease. Ribavirin causes birth defects and pregnancy should be avoided during treatment. Patients and their healthcare providers should carefully review the product manufacturer information prior to treatment.

Can anything be done to reduce symptoms or side effects due to antiviral treatment?
You should report what you are feeling to your doctor. Some side effects may be reduced by giving interferon at night or lowering the dosage of the drug. In addition, flu-like symptoms can be reduced by taking acetaminophen before treatment.

Can children receive interferon therapy for chronic hepatitis C?
The Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of the combination anti-viral therapy for the treatment of hepatitis C in children 3 to 17 years old. For details please refer to page 11 of AASLD Practice Guideline: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Management of Hepatitis C.





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