Here’s the Scoop on Hepatitis C – Family Caregivers Need to Know

Hearing in the media about hepatitis C and wondering what this talk is all about?

Commercials urge people of a certain age to get tested but should your senior – or you – do this now?

Because hepatitis C is a lifelong illness that attacks the liver, the sooner you learn if your senior has contracted the infection the better for their long term health.

Let’s learn more about what hepatitis C is and how seniors and family caregivers can be affected.

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, in this case caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV).

Inflammation of the liver can cause it to function improperly.

Our livers are important to our health because they filter our blood, process our medications, store nutrients and energy and help us fight infection.

We want our liver to be functioning at peak performance to keep us healthy.

We can’t live without our liver.

Hepatitis is often caused by a virus but excessive alcohol consumption, certain medications, and other medical conditions can lead to hepatitis.

The viral forms include hepatitis A, B and C.

20% of people can fight the hep C virus, but the rest of people who come in contact with the HCV can’t clear the virus from their systems and therefore will develop hepatitis C.

Hep C becomes a chronic, lifelong infection resulting in serious health problems, such as liver failure and liver cancer.

How Hepatitis C Spreads

Hep C is most often spread through the blood when one person comes in contact with another person’s blood who is already infected. It can happen by sharing needles, syringes or other medical equipment used to  to inject drugs or prescription medications.

Prior to 1992, hep C was transferred in blood donations to those getting blood transfusions or organ transplants. Since then the blood supply is tested before it is used.

A person getting a tattoo or a body piercing can also be at risk to become infected with hepatitis C.

It can be sexually transmitted as well.

Infants can be infected from mothers who carry the infection.

You don’t get hepatitis C from contact such as shaking hands, hugging an infected person, or being coughed or sneezed on by an infected person.

Unfortunately, many people are unaware that they are infected and then can’t determine how they got it.

Symptoms of Hepatitis C

People who are infected with hepatitis C often show no symptoms.

If they do experience anything it includes:

  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Upset stomach
  • Throwing up
  • Dark urine
  • Dark colored stool
  • Poor appetite
  • Joint pain
  • Yellowing of skin and eyes

These symptoms could be random and hard to identify for medical professionals or attributed to some other chronic condition.

When hepatitis C is chronic (that is you have had it for a number of years without knowing), symptoms are often now associated with advanced liver disease.

If you or your senior develops acute hepatitis C infection, you will experience symptoms 2 weeks to 6 months after acquiring the infection.

Getting a Diagnosis

The only way to determine if you or your senior has contracted hepatitis C is through a blood test called a hepatitis C antibody test.

A positive test results confirms that you or your senior has been infected at some point in time.

This does not mean you will still have hep C. You will then need a test called RNA test to tell if you are currently infected.

Experts agree that if you fit these criteria, you should get tested:

  1. Born between 1945-1965
  2. Received donated blood or organ transplant before 1992
  3. Used injected drugs – even if it was only once
  4. Have abnormal liver tests, liver disease, or HIV/AIDS
  5. Had exposure to blood from someone who is infected with hep C
  6. On hemodialysis
  7. Born to a mother with hep C

You or your senior’s doctor may request you get a liver biopsy to look for liver damage.

Prevention and Treatment Tips

You can prevent becoming infected with hep C by avoiding sharing or reusing needles or syringes to inject drugs, steroids or hormones; not getting tattoos or body piercings from an unlicensed facility; and avoiding sharing personal items that may come in contact with an infected person’s blood such as razors, nail clippers, toothbrushes or glucometers.

There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.

Once infected, treatment will depend on many factors. It is best to consult with a physician who is experienced with hep C to develop an optimal treatment plan. Usually an antiviral medication or other newer medicine can fight the virus.

If liver damage is severe, your or your senior’s doctor may recommend liver transplant.

The sooner the virus is found and medications given, the quicker damage to the liver will be stopped.

It is a good idea to eat right, stay physically active and avoid drinking in order to stay healthy every day.

Strengthening your immune system to prevent opportunistic infections from taking hold of your senior or you as a family caregiver is a good idea.

Caring for yourself will help you care for your senior loved one.