Doctors Seek Higher Fees From Health Insurers

(Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)

You may have Hepatitis C and not know it

Nothing catches my attention more than when the CDC makes a sweeping recommendation for screening as it recently did for Hepatitis C, a serious and often silent infection caused by a virus that attacks the liver.  The acute form—when someone is first infected– of hepatitis C infection tends to be short and rarely causes liver damage; however, chronic hepatitis C infection can follow a progressive course over many years ultimately resulting in cirrhosis — scarring of the liver — or a form of liver cancer known as hepatocellular carcinoma, or even the need for liver transplantation.

Consider that the CDC estimates that there were 17,000 new cases of Hepatitis C in 2010 yet only 2800 patients (16 percent) had any symptoms of the acute infection; most people don’t know they had the infection until the liver damage showed up decades later during routine medical tests.  Thus, of the hepatitis viruses (hepatitis A and B are the other types), the C virus is considered to be the most serious.  The following are important things you may not know about Hepatitis C.

1. Hepatitis C infection produces no signs and symptoms during the early stages and when they do occur they are generally mild and flu-like and may include fatigue, fever, nausea or poor appetite, muscle and joint pains, and even tenderness in the area of your liver.  This typically happens 2- 26 weeks after exposure and lasts between 2- 12 weeks.

2. Hepatitis C  is spread only when you come in contact with contaminated blood.  Therefore screening of Hepatitis C logically includes groups or situations where one may have been exposed to infected blood.  Testing for hepatitis C infection may help doctors begin treatment or recommend lifestyle changes that may slow liver damage. In 2012, the CDC recommended screening for all of the following individuals:

    •  born in the United States between 1945 and 1965 – that means everyone in this group
    •  ever injected with illegal drugs
    • received clotting factors made before 1987
    • received blood and organs before July 1992
    •  ever on chronic hemodialysis
    • had evidence of liver disease including elevations of liver enzymes, a blood test, ALT specifically, or are infected with HIV
    • were healthcare, emergency and public safety workers after a needle stick or exposure to hepatitis C virus
    •  were children born to hepatitis-C-infected women

3. Chronic hepatitis C infection can cause significant complications such as scarring of the liver, otherwise known as cirrhosis, which makes it difficult for the liver to function, a process that may take up to 20-30 years.  In some cases, liver cancer and other cases of liver failure may occur.  For Latinos, the course of Hepatitis C is more aggressive, with a higher risk to develop cirrhosis.

4. In many cases, a diagnosis of hepatitis C doesn’t necessarily mean you will need treatment.

5. For others, however, antiviral medication is needed to clear the virus from the body and a doctor may recommend a combination of medications depending on the individual– typically interferon and ribavirin.  Sadly for Latinos, emerging evidence suggests that we have decreased response to these treatment regimens because Latinos often have a more resistant form of the virus.

6. There are side effects of antiviral treatments in the majority of individuals who take interferon and ribavirin combination therapy.  Side effects include flu-like symptoms, anemia, lowered white blood cells, rash, hair loss, thyroid problems, depression, fatigue, irritability, cough, dyspnea and many other symptoms.

7.  If your liver has been severely damaged, a liver transplant may be the only option.  During liver transplant the surgeon will remove the damaged liver and replace it with a healthy liver but getting a liver is easier said than done, as there is a severe organ shortage throughout the world.

8. According to the Mayo Clinic, some lifestyle tips if one receives a diagnosis of hepatitis C include

  • stop drinking alcohol; alcohol speeds the progression of the disease
  • avoid over the counter medications that are processed by the liver
  • staying healthy through diet, exercise and sleep
  • help prevent others from coming in contact with your blood; never share razors, toothbrushes, don’t donate blood or body organs or semen
  • advise healthcare workers that you have the virus

9. To prevent Hepatitis C,  it is important to

  • avoid or stop using illicit drugs and never share needles
  • be cautious about body piercing and tattooing; if you undergo piercing or tattooing look for a reputable shop, make sure the equipment is clean and that there are sterile needles
  • don’t engage in unprotected sex with multiple partners

Because Hepatitis C is so common, silent, and dangerous, understanding how to prevent and spreading hepatitis C is essential to avoiding becoming one of its victims.

You may have Hepatitis C and not know it doctor servin nbc final parenting family NBC Latino News

Dr. Joseph Sirven is a first-generation Cuban-American. He is Professor and Chairman of the Department of Neurology and was past Director of Education for Mayo Clinic Arizona. He is editor-in-chief of epilepsy.com and has served U.S. and global governmental agencies including the Institute of Medicine, NASA, FAA, NIH and CDC.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,283 other followers

%d bloggers like this: