Most of us have heard of Hepatitis C, but many of us don’t know exactly what it is and how it is treated. In a nutshell, it is a liver infection caused by a virus in the blood. There are two kinds:
- Acute Hep C is a short-term illness that occurs with the first six months after someone is exposed to the virus. For most people, an acute infection leads to chronic infection.
- Chronic Hep C is a long-term illness that occurs when the virus remains in the body. This is the form that approximately 75 to 85 percent of people have. It can result in serious health issues such as cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer, and can even lead to death if not treated properly.
It is estimated that about 146,500 people in New York City are infected with Hep C. Forty percent of them don’t even know they have the virus.
Hep C can be transmitted when the blood of a person infected with the virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. Today, most people become infected through activities such as:
- Sharing needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject drugs
- Needlestick injuries in health care settings
- Being born to a mother who has Hepatitis C
A person can also get the Hepatitis C virus by:
- Sharing personal care items that may have come in contact with another person’s blood, such as razors or toothbrushes
- Having sexual contact with a person who has the Hepatitis C virus
It is very important to talk to your doctor and get the simple blood test if you are at risk.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 70 to 80 percent of people with acute Hepatitis C do not have any symptoms. Some people, however, can have mild to severe symptoms soon after acquiring the virus. This usually occurs about six to seven weeks after exposure. Symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Joint pain
- Jaundice (yellow color in the skin or eyes)
However, many people with the Hepatitis C virus do not develop symptoms. Even if a person with Hepatitis C has no symptoms, he or she can still pass the virus to others.
In addition, there are other conditions, such as HIV, that can complicate the course of chronic Hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C is treated with antiviral medications that work to clear the virus from the body. The goal of treatment is to have no virus detected in the body at least 12 weeks after completing treatment. Recent advances in medications have resulted in fewer side effects and shorter treatment times.
It is important to discuss treatment options with a specialist. Throughout treatment, the care team will monitor response to medications.
Hundreds of Amida Care members have received treatment and have been cured of Hep C. Amida Care is a Special Needs Health Plan (SNP) that provides comprehensive health coverage, at little or no cost, Medicaid-eligible New Yorkers who qualify for our Live Life Plus plan. Confidential answers are available at 1-855-GO-AMIDA (1-855-462-6432, TTY 711).