Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a liver inflammation caused by a virus. The disease is transmitted mainly through blood. The most common way to get the infection is if you take drugs with syringes that are also used by others. With treatment with drugs, most people with hepatitis C can get well.

You who have hepatitis C must follow certain rules, according to the Infection Protection Act .

Symptoms of hepatitis C

From the time you become infected with the hepatitis C virus, it usually takes about eight weeks for you to get the disease, but the time can vary from two weeks to six months.

The disease is divided into acute and chronic hepatitis C. The first phase of the infection is called acute hepatitis C. Three out of four of those infected then get chronic hepatitis C. Then the virus remains in the body for more than six months, often throughout life, if you do not receive treatment.

Symptoms of acute hepatitis C

Most people who have acute hepatitis C have no symptoms and do not notice that they have had the infection.

If you get symptoms of acute hepatitis C, it often starts with losing your appetite and feeling unwell. Sometimes you can also get headaches, fever, pain in the body and get tired. The trouble can last for up to a week.

Then come the symptoms that are more typical of hepatitis and which is why hepatitis is sometimes called jaundice:

  • The skin and the whites of the eyes turn yellowish.
  • The kiss gets dark and the stools light.

While the yellow color comes, the first symptoms diminish, but you can still be tired. Within a few weeks, the yellow color usually disappears. Afterwards, you may feel tired for another month.

With the help of blood tests, it is possible to check if the infection has disappeared or if it appears to become chronic hepatitis.

Chronic hepatitis C

It is common for chronic hepatitis C to produce no symptoms. You can have the virus in your body for many years without knowing it directly. But the disease nevertheless causes an inflammation of the liver which can slowly be damaged. It can lead to liver cirrhosis after 20-30 years. Liver cirrhosis, or cirrhosis, increases the risk of liver cancer . 

When and where should I seek care?

Contact a  health care provider  if you have been at risk of hepatitis C or if you have symptoms suggestive of hepatitis C.

You should test for hepatitis C if you have had any of the following:

  • You have used drugs and shared syringes, tips or mixing cups with others.
  • You have or have had a partner with hepatitis C.
  • You were born in a country where hepatitis C is very common.

How is hepatitis C transmitted?

In hepatitis C, the virus is found in the blood. You can get the infection if you get blood with hepatitis C virus in your own blood. Hepatitis C can be transmitted even if the infected person has no symptoms.

There is no vaccine against hepatitis C.

Usually transmitted between people sharing syringes

The infection is most often spread between people who share syringes, needles or pull up drugs from the same container.

It is uncommon, but the disease can also be transmitted if you work in health care and come into contact with infected blood, for example through a stab injury.

The infection can be transmitted by intercourse

You can also get the infection if you have sex with a person who has hepatitis C, although it is very uncommon. In the case of bleeding or damage to the mucous membranes and in anal intercourse, the risk of being infected is greater. To protect yourself, you should use a condom  or femidom .

Can I get infected by getting blood? 

You may have had the infection if you received a blood transfusion before 1992. You may also have been infected if you received a blood transfusion in a country that does not control its blood donors. Then you should test for hepatitis C.

All blood is now being tested before it is used in health care.

Hepatitis C should be notified

Hepatitis C is  a so-called notifiable disease according to the InfectionProtection Act. This means that the doctor who discovers that someone has the disease must report it to an infectious disease doctor and to the  Public Health Authority . 

Hepatitis C is also contagious. This means that the doctor should track where the infection comes from to prevent it from spreading to more people.

Surveys

You can have a blood test at the health center to see if you have or have had hepatitis C. Within a week, there will usually be a response to the test.

If the first test shows that you have ever had hepatitis C, you may need to submit another test, to find out if the virus is still present. In that case, you still have hepatitis C. If the virus is not present, it indicates that the infection has healed.

You should get a referral to an infection clinic if it turns out that you have hepatitis C. Then a doctor will do additional examinations to see if the disease has damaged your liver and if you need treatment.

Treatment of chronic hepatitis C

There are effective drugs for chronic hepatitis C in adults.

The drugs are so-called direct-acting antivirals and target the hepatitis C virus directly. Almost everyone who gets the treatment gets healthy.

You take the medicines in the form of tablets in the morning, usually for eight or twelve weeks.

Most of these drugs are currently only approved for adults. Children with hepatitis C are treated when they have become old enough to receive treatment.

Before a treatment becomes current, you undergo examinations to see what type of hepatitis C virus you have and how serious your liver injury is. It is necessary for the doctor to know which drug is best for you. The type of hepatitis C virus you have is determined by a blood test. It’s called genotyping.

Examination of the liver

Your doctor will check if you have any liver damage by measuring the elasticity of your liver. The study is called elastography and shows if you have any scar tissue in the liver. The survey is simple and takes about five minutes. It is made in conjunction with a reception visit.

In rare cases when the results from elastography are difficult to interpret, you may need to have a tissue sample from the liver, a so-called liver biopsy .

The biopsy shows, among other things, how the liver cells look and if there are signs of inflammation and scarring.

You are allowed to have blood tests regularly

Before and during the treatment of hepatitis C, you may have blood tests. You must do this to allow the doctor to see how your liver works. Blood tests can also measure the amount of virus in the body to determine the contagiousness and efficacy of the treatment.

You become infectious if the treatment succeeds

Three months after the end of treatment, the doctor can see if the infection has healed. The liver damage you had before the treatment remains, but it often gets better after the treatment.

If the treatment is successful, you become infectious and the inflammation in the liver heals. This reduces the risk of having liver cirrhosis  or liver cancer .

To consider when treating 

For the treatment to have an effect, it is important that you take the tablets every day throughout the treatment period. Discuss with your doctor if you think you may have difficulty managing it. It is also important that you tell if you are taking other medicines, so the doctor can check that they can be taken together with the drugs against hepatitis C.

If you usually inject drugs and continue with them after hepatitis C treatment, there is a risk that you will be re-infected once the treatment is complete. Therefore, it is important that you do not expose hepatitis C infection during or after treatment.

Side effects of the drugs

The drugs against hepatitis C produce very little side effects. They can sometimes make you tired or have a headache. You may also have other problems, but this is unusual. Contact a doctor or nurse if you experience any discomfort during treatment.

It is uncommon with side effects that make you need to be on sick leave if you work or study. 

Treatment of acute hepatitis C

Acute hepatitis C can sometimes pass by itself. Therefore, you do not receive specific treatment for hepatitis when you have acute hepatitis C.

You may want medication to relieve pain or other discomfort. Since some medicines can affect the liver, you should always consult your doctor about what you can use. This also applies to prescription drugs.

You need to go on checks to monitor how you and your liver are feeling, and to see if the infection disappears or if it becomes chronic. Then you may need treatment later.

In rare cases, acute hepatitis C can cause such severe problems that you may need hospital care.

Pregnancy and hepatitis C

You cannot be treated for hepatitis C when you are pregnant as the fetus should not be exposed to the drugs.

The risk of the virus being transmitted to the child during childbirth is small. The child still needs to be checked for hepatitis C at the child care center. This is usually done when the child is 1.5 years.

Hepatitis C does not infect through breastfeeding, so you can breastfeed even if you have hepatitis C. 

Getting a sick message

It may feel painful to be told that you have hepatitis C. It may be good to bring a relative when you get an answer to the blood test, if you think it can help you.

It is important that you tell your health care provider if you feel it is difficult. Then you can get help and support.

There is a patient organization for people with hepatitis C . There you can get support from people who have or have had the disease.

Living with hepatitis C

You can usually live as usual if you have chronic hepatitis C, except you should avoid alcohol and be aware of how to do so to not transmit the virus to others. You also need to go for the controls you are called to.

Anyone with hepatitis C is recommended to vaccinate against hepatitis Aand hepatitis B as these infections can also cause liver damage.

Avoid certain drugs and alcohol

Many drugs are broken down in the liver. Always consult your doctor about which medicines you can use. This also applies to prescription drugs. Alcohol also damages the liver, so it is important that you who have hepatitis C do not drink alcohol.

Rules to follow if you have hepatitis C

As long as you have hepatitis C, you must follow certain rules according to the Infection Protection Act . Here are some examples of rules if you have hepatitis C:

Inform about the disease

  • You must tell that you have hepatitis C if someone has come into contact with your blood. The person should then contact a health care center or infection center to submit blood tests. The test shows if they have been infected.
  • Inform your partner if you have hepatitis C. The risk of getting infected during intercourse is very small, but it can happen. The risk is greater if the mucous membranes are irritated or damaged and in anal sex. Then you should protect yourself, with for example a condom or femidom .
  • You must tell that you have hepatitis C when you seek medical or dental care.

Avoid sharing some things

  • For example, do not share a razor or shaver with others, because shaving can cause small wounds and there may be traces of blood with the infection in. You should also not share a toothbrush as you can bleed the gums when brushing your teeth.
  • Do not share syringes, needles and mixing cups with others if you are using drugs. Store the spray tools so no one else can injure or use them.

Be careful if you bleed

  • Be sure to put patches or dressings even on small wounds. Anyone who helps should use plastic gloves when wrapping wounds.
  • Pack things that have your blood on them very carefully before you throw them away. This applies, for example, to plasters and bandages.
  • Remove blood stains with disinfectant. Wash clothes that have got blood in the washing machine.
  • You should not tattoo yourself, pierce your ears or anything like that that makes you bleed. If you still do, you must tell you that you have hepatitis C.

In contact with health care

  • You are required to attend the return visits and tests that the doctor considers necessary.
  • You must not  give blood. This is true even if you can no longer transmit the virus.

Discuss with a doctor how to inform preschool staff and school staff if you have a child who has chronic hepatitis C.

With the new effective drugs, there is a great chance that you can get treatment and get completely healthy from hepatitis C. After the treatment you leave samples and a doctor should determine that you are no longer contagious. If the treatment has worked then you usually have to finish the checks and then you can also stop following the rules of procedure.

sequelae

Over time, hepatitis C can lead to serious injury, such as scarring of the liver. It sometimes develops into  liver cirrhosis, also called cirrhosis. Approximately one in four people with hepatitis C get cirrhosis after twenty to thirty years. You have a slightly increased risk of  liver cancer if you have developed cirrhosis.

The risk of contracting these diseases increases if you have other types of hepatitis virus at the same time, if you have impaired immune systems or if you drink alcohol. 

What happens in the body?

The liver cleanses your blood and stores fat and sugar. It also breaks down certain substances, such as alcohol and drugs. It also has significance for some of the body’s hormones and for the blood’s ability to stop bleeding.

Hepatitis means liver inflammation.

What happens when you become yellow with hepatitis?

The liver has the task of taking care of the yellow substance bilirubin, which comes from blood cells. The bilirubin gives the stool and the kiss its color.

If the liver is unable to take care of the bilirubin, it is instead transferred into the tissues with the blood. When the amount of bilirubin gets too high in the blood, the skin and the whites of the eyes turn yellow.

Different types of hepatitis

There are several types of hepatitis diseases caused by viruses:  hepatitis A,  hepatitis B, hepatitis C, hepatitis D and hepatitis E.

The jaundice that newborn babies can get is not hepatitis and is not contagious.

Influence and participate in your care

You can seek care at  any healthcare center  you want throughout the country.

You should understand the information

In order for you to be involved in your care and treatment, it is important that you understand the information  you receive from the healthcare staff. Ask questions if you don’t understand. For example, you should receive information about treatment options and  how long you may have to wait for care and treatment .

Children should also be involved in their care. The older the child, the more important it is.

You have the opportunity to get help from an interpreter. You also have the opportunity to get  help from an interpreter if you have a hearing loss 

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