What is Hepatitis C?
First off, I would like to say that Hepatitis C is curable in the majority of the population. If you would like to jump to that section, please click here!
- Hepatitis C is a blood-borne pathogen caused by the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) which affects the functioning of the liver
- The infection can cause both “acute” and “chronic” hepatitis, which can have a wide range of severity. Some people only contract a minor sickness which lasts a few weeks to a month, while others can contract a serious, lifelong illness.
- The virus is spread through contact with blood, and is highly infectious, up to 100x more infectious than HIV.
- Globally, an estimated 71 million people have chronic hepatitis C infection. Out of those, almost 4 million people in the United States have it, and it has become the most common blood born pathogen in the USA.
- It causes inflammation in the liver, and can lead to serious health complications and death if left untreated or uncured.
- It does, however, take a long time to act, sometimes taking between 10 and 40 years.
- 25% of people who have HIV also have Hepatitis C.
What is Hepatitis C not?
- It is NOT a death sentence. Most people can be cured, and those who cannot can be treated until a cure comes out.
- It is NOT incurable. Antiviral medicines can cure more than 95% of people infected with Hepatitis C.
- It is NOT always obvious. In people with chronic Hep-C, at least 75% of them don’t get any more sick over time.
How do people get Hepatitis C?
- Hepatitis C is spread most commonly through exposure to small quantities of blood.
- Injection Drug Users practicing unsafe injection techniques, such as sharing needles, is one common method of transmission.
- Unsafe health care, such as sharing toothbrushes, sharing razors, nail clippers, or anything else that may come into contact with blood.
- Receiving a tattoo or a piercing without presterilized needles or sharps that have been sterilized in an autoclave.
- Unprotected sex, though this is usually a result of anal sex, as it causes more blood transmission.
- Transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products.
- Exposure to wounds that are not covered or are covered improperly.
What does Hepatitis C do?
Hepatitis C affects the liver primarily.
The liver is responsible for hundreds of vital functions. It takes everything you eat, breathe, or absorb through the skin or other organs, and processes it. The liver is responsible for taking the food and drink you consume and converting it into energy and the materials needed to build muscles, construct hormone molecules, produce red blood cells and clotting factors, and creating immune factors. It stores many essential vitamins, minerals, and sugars for later use. It detoxifies substances that are harmful to the body, and metabolizes the medications and drugs people take. This allows the medications to enter the bloodstream and do their job.
What do you do if you have Hepatitis C?
Yes, that’s right, get cured! We live in an amazing time for Hep-C treatment. Even 15 years ago, Hepatitis C was widely considered incurable. The only way to try to cure it then was interferon, which took weekly injections for almost a year and had side effects far worse than the disease. On top of that it only had a 50% success rate! Now almost 100% of Chronic Hep-C cases can be cured. We expect to be approaching a full 100% cure rate within the next 10 years! If you have Hepatitis C and it isn’t cured easily, there are treatments available to improve your quality of life so that you can comfortably wait for the right new drugs to be invented to help cure the version of it that you have.
How does it work now?
Within the last couple years, there are a number of new medications available that are targeted anti-viral medications. How they work is they effectively just stop the virus from reproducing, which allows your body’s natural immune system to fight it off. Up to between 95% and 97% of the population can be cured after a simple 12-week course of medication.
Having Hepatitis C and HIV together can impact the cure rate, but in many cases they just give you a 24 week course of treatment instead of a 12 week one. Both treatments use the same drugs, which have minimal side-effects. Most often some minor fatigue and maybe a headache. Four of the most popular medications are listed below:
- Harvoni (ledipasvir/sofosbuvir)
- Epclusa (sofosbuvir/velpatasvir)
- Sovaldi (sofosbuvir)
- Vosevi (sofosbuvir, velpatasvir, and voxilaprevir)
If you cannot afford these medications, don’t fret! Gilead Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of these medications, has a website called My Support Path (http://www.mysupportpath.com/). This website is designed to help those who cannot afford the medications to obtain them for either free or a severely discounted rate. Even if you have no insurance and no income, you can still qualify for medication assistance through this website.
What should I watch out for?
- Firstly, Modern Hepatitis C medications are ridiculously expensive, so if you qualify for the free or discounted assistance, we recommend going that route.
- Unlike some viruses, once you have been cured, you can be reinfected if you are exposed to it.
- The Patient Assistance Programs listed above are not likely to be available to people who are active Injection Drug Users, or to people who have previously been helped to a cure for their Hepatitis C previously.
Well, what should I do now?
Get tested! Once you go get tested by a medical professional and they confirm that you have Hepatitis C, they will check to see which genotype you have and prescribe you a medication, such as Epclusa which is tailored to target that specific genotype most effectively.
After that, go get cured!