Providing information, diagnosis and treatment for patients with Hepatitis C in Washington, D.C.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C, also known as HCV, is a viral infection that inflames and damages the liver. Spread through contact with contaminated blood, this disease is usually curable with proper medication and treatment once diagnosed. HCV can be a silent infection, slowly damaging the liver even without outwardly displaying any symptoms. Because of this, it’s important that individuals over 18 be screened for HCV, even if they are not reporting symptoms or signs of liver disease. 

What Causes Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). An infected person carries this virus in their blood. When uninfected individuals come into contact with this contaminated blood, the virus enters their own bloodstream, transmitting the disease.

As such, most instances of HCV transmission in the United States are caused by sexual contact or by coming into contact with contaminated blood through unsanitized needles used for the purposes of drug use, tattoos, piercings and so on.

Risk Factors for Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C can spread through any direct contact with contaminated blood, even accidentally pricking your skin with an infected object. However, there are certain individuals who are at an increased risk of contracting HCV due to their environment, living and working conditions, such as those who: 

  • Work in healthcare, where they could be exposed to infected blood
  • Participate in illicit drug use, especially those that are injected or inhaled 
  • Received a blood transfusion or organ transplant prior to 1992
  • Have HIV/AIDS
  • Were born to a woman with HCV 
  • Received clotting factor concentrates prior to 1987
  • Have spent time in prison 
  • Received hemodialysis treatments over a long period of time 
  • Were born between 1945-1965
  • Received a tattoo or piercing in an unclean environment with unsterile tools 

Symptoms of Hepatitis C

Unfortunately, many people with a long-term infection of Hepatitis C, also known as chronic HCV, do not realize they are infected at all until years later, when the liver becomes damaged enough that it starts showing signs of liver disease, such as: 

  • Bleeding and/or bruising easily 
  • Jaundice or yellow hue to the skin and eyes 
  • Poor appetite and weight loss 
  • Exhaustion and fatigue, often paired with confusion or slurred speech known as hepatic encephalopathy  
  • Swollen legs
  • Blood vessels on the skin that appear to fan out in a spider-like pattern, known as spider angiomas 
  • Itchiness of the skin 
  • Dark urine 
  • Buildup of fluid in the abdomen, known as ascites

Treatment Of Hepatitis C

Treatment for Hepatitis C will depend largely on the individual and how far the disease has progressed prior to diagnosis. For those who have not developed serious complications to their liver as a result of HCV, the disease can be treated and often cured with the use of antiviral medications. Based on your HCV genotype, the extent of liver damage prior to diagnosis, other medical conditions such as HIV, and prior treatments, your doctor will discuss your treatment options with you and help you to get the best possible treatment plan for your needs. 

For those who have developed severe liver damage from HCV, your doctor may require a liver transplant. In this procedure, a surgeon removes the damaged liver and replaces it with a healthy liver from a donor. In most cases, a transplant alone will not cure the body of the virus. As such, your doctor will likely prescribe an antiviral treatment plan composed of special medications that are designed for curing post-transplant HCV. 

If you believe you or someone you know may have Hepatitis C, contact Washington Health Institute today. You can schedule a visit directly from our website, or give us a call at 202-525-5175 for more information.