- What is hepatitis C?
- How is hepatitis C spread?
- What are the symptoms of hepatitis C?
- How long does hepatitis C last?
- How can hepatitis C be prevented?
- Can I drink alcohol if I have hepatitis C?
What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis is an infectious inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis C is a variant of hepatitis that is caused by the hepatitis C virus.
It is well known in Ireland because of the scandal involving the Blood Transfusion Boards use of contaminated anti-D blood products which infected thousands of Irish women. The State has already paid out over €250 million in compensation to some 1,300 women infected with hepatitis C. The final payout is expected to top €500 million.
Hepatitis can be acute (a disease of rapid onset) or chronic (a disease of long duration, usually of gradual onset).
How is hepatitis C spread?
The main way to spread hepatitis C is through contaminated blood. This can be during a blood transfusion, or if you share needles with an infected person.
You can get it through unprotected sex. It is also possible for hepatitis C to be passed from a mother to her baby.
People who work around needles, such as health care workers, can get it if they are accidentally pricked by a contaminated needle.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis C?
The onset of the disease is one to six months after initial exposure. Acute hepatitis C is usually asymptomatic (produces no symptoms). If symptoms do develop, and this is rare, they can include nausea, loss of appetite, aching muscles and mild fever. Later, jaundice (a yellowing of the eyes and skin) may develop, and the urine may darken. At this stage the patient will probably start to feel better.
A large number of people with acute hepatitis can develop chronic hepatitis. This can be asymptomatic, or it can produce mild symptoms such as tiredness and aching muscles.
The most serious complication of chronic hepatitis C is cirrhosis of the liver. In rare cases, liver cancer may develop.
How long does hepatitis C last?
Acute hepatitis C usually lasts from two to eight weeks. Chronic hepatitis C can last for decades.
How can hepatitis C be prevented?
- Practise safe sex. If you are not in a monogamous relationship where you know your partner is uninfected, always use a condom.
- Never share needles.
- Avoid sharing things such as razor blades with an infected person.
- Be especially careful if your work brings you into contact with needles.
Remember, carriers of the virus may have few or not symptoms but they can infect others. There is no vaccine available at present, to protect against infection with Hepatitis C
I drink alcohol if I have hepatitis C?
Always seek medical advice with regard to alcohol. You will probably be advised to abstain from it if the disease is active.
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