Hepatitis C is an infectious disease caused by the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) that primarily affects the liver. With recent advancements in medication, it is now curable. However, there is an estimated 500,000 people living with HCV in Malaysia who most likely do not know their status.
- Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). The abbreviation HCV can stand for either the virus or the infection it causes.
Can Hepatitis C be cured?
New treatments were approved at the end of 2017 that can cure over 95 per cent of people who take them for eight to 12 weeks with few side effects.
What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver that results from the Hepatitis C virus. Acute Hepatitis C refers to the first six months after someone is infected. Acute infection can range in severity, from a very mild illness with few or no symptoms to a serious condition requiring hospitalisation. About 20% of people are able to get rid of the virus without treatment in the first 6 months.
Unfortunately, most people who get infected develop a chronic or lifelong infection. Over time, chronic Hepatitis C can cause serious health problems including liver disease, liver failure and even liver cancer.
How does HCV spread from person to person?
HCV is usually spread when blood from a person living with the virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. Most often, HCV is spread mainly by sharing needles or other injection drug equipments with someone who has HCV.
What is the connection between HIV and HCV?
Because both HIV and HCV spreads through blood, a major risk factor for both HIV and HCV infection is injecting drug use. Sharing needles or other drug equipment increases the risk of contact with HIV or HCV infected blood.
According to the ‘Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’, approximately 25% of people with HIV in the United States also have HCV. Among people with HIV who inject drugs, about 50% to 90% contract HCV. Infection with both HIV and HCV is called HIV/HCV coinfection.
In people with HIV/HCV coinfection, HIV may cause chronic HCV to advance faster. Whether HCV causes HIV to advance faster is unclear.
Can HCV infection be prevented?
- The best protection against HCV is to never inject drugs. If you do inject drugs, always use new, sterile needles and don’t reuse or share needles, syringes, or other injection drug equipment
- Don’t share toothbrushes, razors, or other personal items that may come in contact with another person’s blood
- If you get a tattoo or body piercing, make sure the instruments used are sterile
- Use condoms during sex. The risk of HCV infection through sexual contact is low, but the risk increases in people with HIV. Condoms also reduce the risk of HIV transmission and infection with other sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and syphilis
Live and let live
Should people with HIV get tested for HCV?
Every person who has HIV should get tested for HCV. Usually, a person will first get an HCV antibody test. This test checks for HCV antibodies in the blood. HCV antibodies are disease-fighting proteins that the body produces in response to HCV infection.
A positive result on an HCV antibody test means that the person has been exposed to HCV at some point in their life. However, a positive antibody test does not necessarily mean the person has HCV. For this reason, a positive result on an HCV antibody test must be confirmed by a second, follow-up test. The follow-up test checks to see if HCV is present in the person’s blood. A positive result on this test confirms that a person has HCV.
What are the symptoms of HCV infection?
Most people with acute HCV don’t have symptoms. But some people can have signs of HCV soon after becoming infected. Mild to severe symptoms of acute HCV can include the following
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Dark-coloured urine
- Clay-coloured bowel movements
- Joint pain
- Jaundice ( yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes )
Most people with chronic HCV don’t have any symptoms. Chronic HCV is often discovered based on results from routine liver function tests.
Should people with HIV get treatment for HCV?
HCV is treated with antiviral medicines. The medicines work to slow down or stop HCV from damaging the liver. Many newer HCV medicines are more effective and have fewer side effects than older medicines. The newer medicines can cure HCV in most people.
People with HIV/HCV coinfection may be treated for both infections. However, when to start each treatment and what medicines to take depends on the person. For example, some HIV and HCV medicines can’t be safely used together.
Health care providers prescribe HIV and HCV medicines carefully to avoid drug-drug interactions and closely monitor those taking the medicines for any side effects.
If you have HIV/HCV coinfection, talk to your health care provider about the best medicines for you.