Hepatitis C Infection
Hepatitis C is a viral infection that is spread through the blood, often through injection drug use. It can also be spread through sex or from an infected mother to her infant during pregnancy or childbirth. There are two stages of this infection: acute and chronic. An acute infection develops when someone is first infected. At this time, some people will completely clear the virus. Others will develop long-term, or chronic, infection. If left untreated, chronic hepatitis C can lead to severe liver damage, liver cancer, and even death.
Although hepatitis C can cause serious effects to your body, it is curable.
To find out if you have hepatitis C, you must first get a hepatitis C blood test. Currently, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends that all adults are tested at least once in their lifetime. Additionally, pregnant women should be tested during every pregnancy. Everyone with ongoing risk factors should be tested regularly. A person is considered to have ongoing risk factors if they use injectable drugs where needles, syringes, or other equipment are shared.
Frequently asked questions about hepatitis C:
When you say every adult needs to be tested, does this include those in their 20s and 30s? I heard that hepatitis C is more common in older generations.
Yes. Millennials are the fastest growing population who are getting infected with hepatitis C. Young adults between the ages of 20-39 have the highest rates of new hepatitis C cases.
I thought hepatitis C was curable. Is this condition actually a big deal?
If hepatitis C goes untreated, it can cause serious damage to your liver which can eventually lead to death. The scariest part about hepatitis C is that many times, people do not have symptoms when they are infected. About 4 in 10 people living with hepatitis C do not know that they are infected. This can lead to others becoming infected.
How can I get tested for hepatitis C?
Talk to your doctor to get tested for hepatitis C. Also, we will soon be offering free hepatitis C testing in our community pharmacies throughout Philadelphia. We will be announcing the specific locations and dates of testing soon.
What if I test positive? What are the next steps?
If you test positive for hepatitis C with a rapid test, do not panic. This does not guarantee that you have hepatitis C. You will need to get more tests to confirm the diagnosis with a doctor. If the confirmatory tests are positive, you will be prescribed a medication to cure your hepatitis C.
What are the most common medications used to treat hepatitis C?
The medications that are recommended first-line to treat most untreated and simple cases of hepatitis C are Mavyret® (glecaprevir/pibrentasvir) and Epclusa® (velpatasvir/sofosbuvir). A simple case of hepatitis C is one where you have never received treatment for hepatitis C and you do not have substantial liver damage. Mayvret® is typically taken for 8 weeks, and Epclusa® is typically taken for 12 weeks. It is important to take these medications exactly as prescribed to cure hepatitis C.
What are the side effects of hepatitis C medications?
Mavyret® and Epclusa®, listed above, are generally well-tolerated. The most common side effects of Mavyret® and Epclusa® are headache and fatigue.
What happens when I’m done taking my hepatitis C medication?
After the end of treatment, most patients are cured of their hepatitis C infection. This will be confirmed by labs 12 weeks after your treatment is over.
Can I get hepatitis C again after I was treated and cured?
Yes. It is important that you make lifestyle changes (such as using clean syringes and practicing safe sex) to avoid getting hepatitis C again.