Eisenhower Army Medical Center
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Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a viral condition affecting the livers of about 3,500,000 Americans and infecting 150,000 new victims yearly. 60-80% of all people who become infected with Hepatitis C develop a chronic life-long infection. 20% of patients develop cirrhosis of the liver and of this 20%, a quarter may go on to develop severe or even life-threatening complications of liver disease to include liver failure, bleeding esophageal varices, or liver cancer.

Hepatitis C is usually transmitted from person to person by exposure to blood or blood products. So people who are at risk for being infected with Hepatitis C include those who received blood transfusions or blood products prior to 1990 (before medical science knew how to test for Hepatitis C), people with a history of IV drug abuse, hemophiliacs, health care workers exposed to blood or blood products, people with tattoos, hemodialysis patients, people who have received organ transplants, and persons who are sexually active with multiple partners or sexually exposed to someone with known hepatitis C.

Most chronic Hepatitis C virus carriers are asymptomatic or have minor symptoms. When symptoms are present, the most common are fatigue (70%), abdominal pain or discomfort (20%), anorexia (15%) and weight loss (5%). Some chronic Hepatitis C carriers have enlarged livers and enlarged spleens.

If someone suspects that they may have been exposed to Hepatitis C in the past (such as blood transfusion before 1990) then they should see their physician and have their blood tested for evidence of inflammation in the liver. If this test is positive, then they may be tested for antibodies to Hepatitis C and may be referred to a specialist for further testing and consideration for therapy.

Therapy for chronic Hepatitis C consists of a drug called interferon. Interferon only works in 50-70% of cases and then about 30-50% of responders will relapse back into a state of chronic infection after the interferon is stopped. But in the percentage of patients that do respond, it is hoped that the long term affects of cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer can be prevented.

Rebetron, is a combination of Ribavarin used in conjunction with Interferon. It is somewhat more effective than Interferon alone, for treating Hepatitis C, but has a higher side effect profile. It is also useful in the treatment of patients who relapsed after initially responding to interferon.