How Does A Person Know They Need Treatment for Hepatitis C?
Typically, a person does not become aware that they need treatment for hepatitis C until or unless they become aware that they have been exposed to the virus or until a blood test for another reason comes back positive for hepatitis C. The most common ways a person is exposed to the virus are being exposed to blood or blood products, using IV drugs, or being tattooed in an unlicensed facility. The way in which the person is exposed often indicates how they will find out they have hepatitis C. For example, a person who works in an industry that exposes them to others’ blood or blood products such as working as a doctor, nurse, trainer, or in any position within a medical facility is traditionally trained in ways to avoid coming into contact with others’ blood. This often makes them more aware of their exposure when it does occur, thus leading to quickly being tested and knowing that they need treatment, often leading to an acute case of hepatitis C, or an infection that has been present in the body for under six months. Someone who becomes exposed to the hepatitis C virus through an infected needle either during IV drug use or tattooing is often unaware of the risk they have taken and thus is unlikely to get tested quickly. For this group, the positive test result often becomes known when the person has their blood tested either after symptoms of chronic hepatitis C are present or when their caregiver is testing their blood for another medical concern. In these cases, it may be months or years for their body to be infected before the treatment begins and the infection will be considered chronic as it has likely been present in the body for more than six months.
What Is The Standard Treatment Process for Hepatitis C?
After testing positive for hepatitis C, the medical professional will typically send a blood sample off to a laboratory. There, the doctor will study the blood and the virus and be able to provide a specific genotype for the virus present in the patient. Based on the genotype, the person’s doctor will create a treatment plan for the patient. This treatment plan considers the patient’s medical history, which includes any allergies, autoimmune disorders, or conditions. It also may include liver testing, which allows the doctor to understand how much or how little damage the hepatitis C virus has done and how the body may respond to different medication options that may be used. The doctor will also consider the patient’s insurance coverage and the risks of side effects for each medication option. This will allow the doctor to provide a medical recommendation that takes into account both the best way to treat and beat the virus and the most feasible option for the patient, given their individual situation. Typically, the doctor will prescribe one or more types of medication to treat the hepatitis C virus and they may prescribe other medications to combat or minimize the risks of side effects during the treatment process.
Why Is It Bad That To Start Treating Hepatitis C Later?
The hepatitis C virus causes damage to the body by replicating within the blood stream. The replicated viral cells then create problems within the body, which can include jaundice (yellowing of the skin), exhaustion, and liver damage. The longer that the virus has to replicate, the more damage it can do within the body. Sometimes it means the damage may take longer to repair when the medication does begin and other times the damage is irreversible. In order to best stop the virus from causing damage, it is always best to treat the virus as quickly as possible.
Why Is Hepatitis C Not Treated Earlier If It Is More Cost Effective?
Unfortunately, not everyone who is infected with the hepatitis C virus becomes aware of it quickly. Sometimes this is because a person lacks the knowledge that they have been placed in a position to be exposed, sometimes it is because the person lacks the financial means to get tested quickly. Even after the person becomes aware that they have been exposed and infected, not everyone has health insurance. This lack of access to proper medical care can lead to delayed treatment.
What Can I Do To Change This?
If you believe you may have been exposed to the virus, you can seek local resources by contacting your nearest hospital or clinic. They will guide you to a testing facility that is low cost or free. There, you can discuss your treatment options if you test positive for the hepatitis C virus. If you are concerned about your loved one, you can show your support by offering to help find out testing or treatment options in your community and going with them to appointments. If your focus is on a larger scale, you can contact the politicians in your town, city, and state to voice your concerns about the lack of care options. For other ideas of how to participate in changing this, you can participate in World Hepatitis Day, which takes place each July 28, with big and small ways to give your voice to this very important issue.1-6
Chahal, H., Marseille, E., Tice, J., Pearson, S., Ollendorf, D., Fox, R., & Kahn, J. (2016). Cost-effectiveness of Early Treatment of Hepatitis C Virus Genotype 1 by Stage of Liver Fibrosis in a US Treatment-Naive Population. JAMA Internal Medicine, 176(1), 65. http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.6011
Core Concepts - Treatment of Acute Hepatitis C Infection - Treatment of Special Populations and Special Situations - Hepatitis C Online. (2016). Hepatitisc.uw.edu. Retrieved 23 August 2016, from http://www.hepatitisc.uw.edu/go/special-populations-situations/treatment-acute-infection/core-concept/all
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Leidner, A., Chesson, H., Xu, F., Ward, J., Spradling, P., & Holmberg, S. (2015). Cost-effectiveness of hepatitis C treatment for patients in early stages of liver disease. Hepatology, 61(6), 1860-1869. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/hep.27736
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