Symptoms and causes of hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is a viral infectious disease caused by the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). It is a blood-borne disease that mainly affects the liver causing problems like inflammation of the liver and more serious conditions, such as cirrhosis and liver cancer. It is highly asymptomatic and victims show little or no symptoms during the first few months after infection. The virus primarily resides in human blood and is mostly spread through blood-blood contact.
Causes of hepatitis C
The virus causing hepatitis C can be transmitted from one person to another in the following ways:
Direct blood-blood contact. Blood from different people comes into contact in many different ways. If a healthy person’s blood comes into direct contact with the blood of an infected person, there is a very high chance that the disease will be transmitted. The most common method of direct blood contact is during blood transfusion where blood from one person is transferred into the system of another person. If the donor of the blood is infected with the HCV virus, then the recipient of the blood gets infected too. This is why each blood donation requires a thorough screening for the HCV virus since in its early stages of infection, it is not easily detectable in the blood.
Sharing of personal items. Although hygiene demands that personal items not be shared, there are still many people who share toothbrushes, razors and other things. These materials have been found to be very potent carriers of the disease. Brushing your teeth with the toothbrush of an infected person may get you infected and the downside of this method is that unlike blood transfusion where blood is screened, here there is no way to tell whether a person is infected. The fact that the acute phase of hepatitis C has no symptoms requires us to avoid using other people’s personal items at all times.
Mother to child during child birth. There are very many diseases that can be transmitted from a mother to her child during child birth. Sadly, hepatitis C is one of these diseases and it can be fatal if not treated in its early stages especially in newborn babies.
Organ transplants. Receiving organs from an infected person may lead to transmission of the HCV virus from the organ donor to the recipient.
Sexual intercourse. The HCV virus can potentially be transmitted from one person to another during sexual intercourse, even though the risks of that are very low. However, certain sexual practices have been found to increase the possibility of transmission of the disease. These include: “rough” sexual practices and practice of sexual intercourse during menstruation. This is because all these practices may lead to scratching of tissue that leads to direct blood contact. Protected sex involving the use of condoms has been found to prevent transmission of this virus from one person to another in 100% of the cases.
Sharing piercing and tattooing equipment as well as needles for intravenous drug use. Piercing instruments, especially needles, have been found to be very effective in transmitting this virus from one person to another. Nurses and doctors who handle patients suffering from hepatitis C and drug users who use needles to inject the drugs into their bodies are at high risk of contracting this disease.
Signs of hepatitis C
There are numerous signs and symptoms of hepatitis C, but most of them appear only after the first six months of infection as hepatitis C enters its chronic stage. Here are some of the most frequently observed signs and symptoms of hepatitis C:
Constant body fatigue. This may vary in severity where some people feel tired in intervals while others feel severe fatigue throughout the day. It drastically affects work productivity.
Decrease in appetite. Victims of hepatitis C experience a change in their eating habits and may go for long periods of time without feeling the need to eat.
Nausea and vomiting. The frequency and severity of this symptom increase as the disease progresses and also vary from one person to another.
Jaundice. This is a condition in which urine appears darker. In addition, patients may experience a yellowing change in their skin and a change in the color of their eyes’ white.
Gray stool. In very severe cases of chronic hepatitis, the victims may experience gray coloring in their stool. This may not be life threatening but it is worthwhile to seek medical attention if you notice it.
Weight loss. Most human diseases cause a decrease in human weight and hepatitis C is not an exception. Most severe cases of weight loss are only present in patients who suffer from hep C in combination with other diseases such as other types of hepatitis and HIV/AIDS.
Abdominal pains. This may be due to a condition where fluids flood the abdominal area and cause lots of pain and discomfort. It varies from person to person with less severe cases feeling the pain in the upper part of the abdomen and more severe cases experiencing lots of pain in the whole stomach area.
Regular fevers. While most cases of fever have a trigger, for example an allergen, hepatitis C causes frequent fevers that take place without the need for a trigger. The fevers also vary in severity in different people but people who have been infected for longer experience more frequent and more severe fevers.
Depression and moodiness. Many victims of hepatitis C report unexplainable mood changes and constant feeling of depression.
Regular skin rashes. Although skin rashes are not painful, they cause the victim discomfort and may leave permanent scars if left untreated.
Cognitive deficiencies. Many victims of chronic hepatitis C report cognitive problems like loss of concentration, memory deficiency and the inability to handle mental complex tasks that they were able to handle before the illness. However, the cognitive deficiencies are only mild and can be treated by use of therapy. Since the cognitive deficiencies are not due to physical brain problems, they are not permanent but they can persist for a long time.
Liver cancer. Liver cancer is fatal for most people and many victims of hepatitis C, especially those who take decades to seek medical attention, have been found to suffer from liver cancer. Like many other types of cancer, liver cancer leads to permanent liver damage and this, consequently, may lead to death.
Liver cirrhosis. This means scarring of the liver and it is dominantly present in victims of hepatitis C who abuse alcohol. Liver cirrhosis also leads to permanent liver damage and after infection with liver cirrhosis, the liver deteriorates very fast.
Although it appears to be relatively harmless to humans in the short run, hepatitis C can cause life threatening effects to those infected with it. Due to this condition’s tendency to be asymptomatic, appearance of multiple of the above symptoms may mean that you are suffering from chronic hepatitis C.