All hepatitis conditions affect the liver: inflammatory cells are present in the tissue of the organ. Acute hepatitis lasts for less than six months. The disease is classed as chronic if it lasts for longer than that. Although some hepatitis conditions are caused by toxins (some medications and plants, but especially alcohol), most are caused by one of the hepatitis viruses. The hepatitis C virus (HCV) was first identified in 1987. It is now thought that almost 300 million people are infected world wide with hepatitis C. Hepatitis C treatment usually requires antiviral drugs such as Pegasys, PEG-Intron and ribavirin. Homeopathic treatments are also available, which can show reduction in the viral load, without side effects associated with the antiviral treatment.
Most cases of hepatitis are caused by viruses, which include hepatitis types A-E. The existence of hepatitis C (HCV) was first suspected in the 1970s, and the virus was definitively identified in 1987. It is now believed that 300 million people are infected around the world.
HCV is transmitted by blood to blood contact. Blood transfusion, unsterilized needles and other medical equipment, blood contact (during sport) and sexual contact are all possible routes of infection. In developing countries medical procedures can be poor by Western standards, and many infections occur via unsterilized needle and blood products.
In the US, and other developed countries, good medical practice, and blood donor screening make transmission during medical procedures quite rare. However a great many people were infected before the virus was identified, and effectively screened for during blood donations.
In developed countries the common infection routes are via infected needles being shared by drug users, and non-sterilized equipment being used for tattoos and body piercings. Sexual contact is possible but fairly uncommon: normally it will only occur if there is also another STD present with open sores.
Acute hepatitis is the initial stage, lasting for six months. In more than half the cases there are no symptoms, and if there are symptoms they can be very general, flu-like and non-specific. Other symptoms which may occur include jaundice, abdominal pain, and itching. This means diagnosis rarely happens during the acute phase.
Hepatitis infections lasting over 6 months are called chronic hepatitis . Often there are no symptoms, and the disease is not uncovered until a routine medical check, such as might occur during pregnancy, or when applying to become a blood donor. Although symptomless, the disease is causing liver scarring, eventually leading to fibrosis and cirrhosis.
Due to the short time (about 20 years) in which hepatitis C has been studied, there are differing opinions about the long term prognosis for patients. Some estimates say that two thirds will develop cirrhosis within 30 years if the disease is left untreated, but other estimates are much lower than this.
In some cases the chronic infection will clear itself without any treatment, but in most cases hepatitis C treatment will be required. At the moment a combination of the antiviral drugs Pegasys, PEG-Intron and ribavirin are usually prescribed. Treatment lasts between 24 and 48 weeks depending on the specific HCV genotype. Treatment can be physically difficult, especially for those with a history of drug and alcohol abuse. In some cases patients can register as disabled during the treatment period. Homeopathic treatments are also available, which can show reduction in the viral load, without side effects associated with the antiviral treatment.