Hepatitis C Treatment

  • Treatment

    See a doctor if you develop symptoms of hepatitis C; especially if you have been exposed to a high-risk situation [Table 2].

    Eat a balanced diet, avoid alcohol, and get plenty of sleep.

    Your doctor is the best source of information on the drug treatment choices available to you.

    Your clinician may order a liver biopsy to assess the degree of your liver damage. Your clinician will recommend that you get a liver transplant if you have end-stage hepatitis C.

    If you are a pregnant woman infected with HCV, your infant has a 5% chance of being infected. HCV infection is passed from mother to infant at the time of birth. Currently, there is no treatment that can prevent this from occurring. Recent controversial studies suggest that pregnant women who have a large amount of virus may prevent transmitting the virus to their newborns by having a C-section. However, infants who are HCV-infected at the time of birth usually show no symptoms, and do well during childhood. In addition, there is no evidence that breast-feeding spreads HCV except when the mother's nipples are cracked and bleeding, in which case the mother should stop breast-feeding. If you are a pregnant woman and have risk factors for hepatitis, you should be tested for HCV.

    Children suspected of having HCV infection should not be tested for HCV before 12 months of age, as antibodies from the mother still appear in the bloodstream before that time.

    Children under 18 years of age should not be treated with antiviral drugs for chronic hepatitis C infection.

    Avoid ribavarin treatment for chronic hepatitis C if you are pregnant. Ribavarin has been known to cause birth defects in pregnant women. Pregnancy is discouraged during therapy, and during the six months after therapy is stopped.

    Symptoms of acute hepatitis C usually resolve within weeks without treatment. Most patients can return safely to work after jaundice resolves.

    Hepatitis C becomes chronic in 60% to 85% of all cases, even in the absence of symptoms. Most patients will show traces of infection from blood tests and liver tests several years after acute infection.

    Your outcome depends on a host of related factors such as the age at which you contracted HCV, any co-existing medical conditions that you have, your level of alcohol consumption, and virus-related factors such as the variant of virus, the way the virus was transmitted, and your viral load.

    Chronic hepatitis C can be cured with interferon and antiviral combination therapy in some patients. Forty percent of patients who take a combination of interferon alpha and ribavirin for chronic hepatitis C have a long-lasting benefit; those with long-term remission are considered to be cured. The patients who respond best to treatment usually have hepatitis variant 2 or 3, lower levels of the virus in their blood, are under 45 years of age, have been infected with HCV for under 5 years, and do not have advanced cirrhosis or liver failure. Newer treatments that may become available in 2001 with a new interferon (PEG interferon) in combination with ribavirin are even more promising. This interferon is different in action and can be taken in a single weekly injection.

    Contact your physician if your symptoms do not resolve.

    Take precautions against infecting others. Once you are infected, HCV usually remains in your body if left untreated. You may or may not experience any symptoms. If you reduce your risk factors, however, you can avoid transmitting the virus to others.

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