What is Hepatitis C?

What Is Hepatitis C: Virus Details, Symptoms, and Treatment

Image answering what is hepatitis c

What is hepatitis C? Simply put, hepatitis C is a viral infection. However, there is so much more to this horrid disease, which directly or indirectly claims millions of lives every year. This article aims to explain what hepatitis C is exactly, its symptoms, transmission, treatments, and consequences. An understanding of these factors will help you reduce the risk of contracting this condition and give you the knowledge necessary to stop its progression before it’s too late.

Falling sick with this disease starts with contracting the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The infection takes hold in the liver, causing its gradual failure. During the course of sickness, a patient can develop a wide range of side effects caused by the debilitating properties of the virus. The most dangerous of these consequences include type 2 diabetes, cirrhosis, liver failure, and different types of liver cancer. HCV is also associated with many other conditions and can either trigger them or speed up and worsen their development.

What Is Hepatitis C Virus?

microscopic photo of the hepatitis c virusThe HCV is an enveloped, positive-sense single-stranded RNA virus that causes a variety of dangerous conditions, including hepatitis C as well as some types of lymphomas and liver cancers. The virus replicates in the liver hepatocytes (mostly) and it can produce over 50 virus particles on every ‘contaminated’ cell per day. Despite its rather impressive speed, the damage it does to the liver itself is gradual. If the disease takes a chronic form, it may take decades for the patient to notice any significant symptoms of liver degeneration.

It’s important to know that even though there are only two types of hepatitis C, acute and chronic, there are many HCV virus genotypes. This abundance is caused by the high rate of mutation of the virus’ RNA-dependent RNA polymerase.

In fact, the rate of mutation and the sheer number of virus variants it produces is so great that HCV is considered a virus quasispecies. It’s a contract to a regular virus species evolutionary model, which has a more stable and ‘linear’ genotype. A quasispecies is a ‘cloud’ of related genotypes enclosed in an environment of a high mutation rate.

What is hepatitis C virus doing inside your body?

  1. Image comparing healthy and affected by hepatitis cThe virus enters the hepatocyte (liver cells responsible for protein metabolism, they make up about 80% of the organ) and takes over some parts of the intracellular machinery in order to replicate itself.
  2. The virus produces a protein which is later processed by both the cellular and viral proteases.
  3. The protein, in turn, produces other proteins and eventually the virus makes its way into the RNA replication complex.
  4. At this stage it produces a negative RNA strand that serves as the template for producing strand viral genomes.
  5. Virus replicates actively on intracellular lipid membranes, deforming them and creating the so-called membranous webs.

When you ask the question ‘What is hepatitis C?’, you should focus on determining the exact genotype of the virus. This factor is essential for choosing the right kind of treatment and predicting the consequences. Note that the latter is always difficult as there are hundreds of variables that affect the development of the hepatitis C virus in the body.

Hepatitis C: Statistics and History

Image with statistics of hepatitis c in baby boomers

When you ask “what is hepatitis C?” you should learn about the origins of the disease. It is believed that the genotypes 1 and 4 have been around the longest time. They appeared about 300-400 years ago and spread predominantly in the West and Central Africa.

This is the reason why people of African descent have a lower level of success in the treatment for hepatitis C genotype 1 and 4. This resistance to the treatment is attributed to a particular chromosome and is an evolutionary adaptation caused by generations of HCV epidemics.

The HCV genotype 6 is considered the ancestor of all other types as it dates back over 1,100 years. Hepatitis C genotype 3 is said to originate from South East Asia. However, various strands of the virus occurred in almost every part of the world, so no country has been spared from the detrimental effects of hepatitis C. The study of the spread of the virus allows us to assume that it was carried from Asia and Africa by tradesmen.

It’s impossible to determine how many people are currently suffering from hepatitis C because due to the lack of symptoms, the disease often goes undiagnosed. Hepatitis C screening isn’t mandatory for everyone. However, people from the high risk group are recommended to take the required blood tests regularly.

Due to the hep C transmission model, the high-risk group includes:

  • Drug addicts, current and former, especially those who used intravenous drugs.
  • Health care professionals and volunteers working in areas with a high incidence of HCV (Asia and Africa) and/or directly with hepatitis patients.
  • Sexual partners of patients suffering from HCV.
  • Newborns whose mothers are suffering from hepatitis.
  • Recipients of blood transfusions or organ transplants before 1991.

The virus predominantly spreads through blood contact, so careful preventative measures reduce the risk of infection greatly. However, even people who don’t fall into one of these groups can develop the disease.

It’s imperative to take a hepatitis C test if you exhibit any of the symptoms of this infection.

Hepatitis C Symptoms and Signs

Most hepatitis C symptoms are extremely subtle. They can be overlooked or attributed to other, more ‘obvious’ conditions. In many cases, they don’t appear at all until the infection progresses to a dangerous stage or triggers life-threatening conditions, such as cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Most common hepatitis C symptoms include but aren’t limited to:

  • Jaundice.
    This is a condition caused by liver failure. It turns your skin and eyes yellow and may also cause dark urine.
  • Ascites.
    This condition occurs when liquid collects in the abdominal area and becomes inflamed. It usually develops in people suffering from cirrhosis.
  • Nausea.
    It’s often caused by toxin poisoning as the liver starts to fail and doesn’t flush toxins out of your body effectively.
  • Fatigue.
  • Joint and muscle pains.
  • Sensory neuropathy.
  • Altered level of consciousness and cognitive issues.
    If the damage to the liver becomes too great the hepatic encephalopathy may occur and cause a fatal coma.
  • Enlarged veins.
    When the patient’s condition worsens, enlarged veins in the abdominal area may cause internal bleeding. This occurs at the end-stage of liver disease.

Hepatitis C Virus and Diabetes

The question what is hepatitis C? should worry people in the high-risk group for diabetes most. Contracting this disease increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes greatly. This is caused by the fact that hep C causes insulin resistance (IR), which is the first step towards developing diabetes.

IR is a pathological condition that occurs when cells fail to answer the commands of the hormone insulin. This results in the elevated levels of blood sugar and insulin. With HCV this resistance turns chronic, which often results in diabetes. Patients predisposed to this condition are at a great risk of developing it early in life due to the interference of the hepatitis C virus.

Hepatitis C and Pregnancy

Another group of people who really should take a hepatitis C test are future mothers who consider they might have the disease. They need to be aware of what hepatitis C is and all the risks it brings because the risk of infecting the baby during birth is great.

Considering the fact that pregnancy is a great physical stress for a woman’s body, the various detrimental effects of hepatitis C will affect the development of the baby. Therefore, it’s important to receive special care, a proper diet, etc. in order to reduce the risks to both the fetus and mother.

Is Hepatitis C Curable?

Hepatitis C virus has been known to man for a long time. However, despite decades of research scientists have not yet been able to develop a vaccine for this specific type of hepatitis. In the absence of a hepatitis C vaccine people at risk of contracting the disease must practice extreme vigilance and obey all the required sanitary norms.

The level of success in curing the virus depends on several factors that include but aren’t limited to:

  • Type of the virus
  • Side-effects caused by the disease
  • Other health conditions suffered by the patient
  • Promptness and efficiency of the treatment

With the right combination of factors, hepatitis C is curable in about 40-80% of cases. In some very rare cases the infection clears up on its own. At the moment, scientists cannot determine the reason for it.

The chances of success with hepatitis C treatment are reduced exponentially if the patient ingests alcohol or medications that are toxic to the liver.

What is Hepatitis C Treatment Based on HCV Geno-type

At the moment, researchers have discerned seven HCV genotypes, and each of them has several sub-types.

The treatment of hepatitis C is based on anti-viral medications, and the genotype determines the body’s response to them. Therefore, it allows a doctor to pick the most efficient drugs for every patient. HCV genotypes 1 and 4 are less responsive to interferon, so the treatment course for these conditions takes 48 weeks. The genotypes 2 and 3 require only 24 weeks of regular medications.

It’s essential to understand that successfully curing HCV of one genotype doesn’t make you immune to other varieties of the virus. It’s possible to contract the infection again and have it develop into a different type of the virus.

The good thing about this is that one strand of the virus removes the other from the system. At the moment, researchers are looking into this as an opportunity to improve treatment by replacing the more resistant virus genotypes with those that show a better response to anti-viral therapies.

Hepatitis C Medications Overview

Hep C treatment is based on antiviral drugs and specialized medications for other conditions caused or aggravated by HCV. Note that it’s imperative to have the doctor consider the interactions of all drugs to prevent any additional health issues and ensure the most effective treatment.

In the vast majority of cases, hepatitis C medications are based on:

  • Ledipasvir and sofosbuvir
  • Ribavirin
  • Interferon
  • Paritaprevir
  • Dasabuvir
  • Ombitasvir

Geno-types 2 and 3 show the best reaction to sofosbusvir and ribavirin, producing a success rate of up to 95%. HCV genotype 1 (both 1a and 1b sub-types, which are the most common) are treated with ledipasvir-sofosbuvir drugs that are effective in 93-99% of cases.

The length of the treatment usually varies from 12 to 48 weeks. The speed of administering hep C medications matters greatly as the success rate decreases as the disease becomes chronic. The best results can be achieved within the first 6 months after contracting the infection.

Note that adverse effects to the treatment aren’t uncommon. People suffering from cirrhosis and liver cancers, in particular, require regular ultrasound monitoring to ascertain both the effectiveness and safety of the medications.

What is Hepatitis C Treatment Cost

A table showing hepatitis c treatment costs

One of the main questions that follow “What is hepatitis C?” is “What is Hepatitis C treatment cost?” Unfortunately, this treatment isn’t cheap in many cases as the most popular drug based on ledipasvir-sofosbuvir, called Harvoni, costs around $90,000 per course.

The sheer cost of this medication makes it unattainable to a large number of hep C patients. Considering the fact that the cost of overall treatment is sure to be much higher, thousands of people suffering from this disease cannot cure it.

One must also take into account that the symptoms and consequences of HCV must be treated as well. In the cases of liver cancer and cirrhosis, this may require a surgery and liver transplant.

Residents of Canada and the US currently have a generic Harvoni alternative, which costs only about $3,000 per course. The introduction of this accessible medication is sure to increase the number of people who can cure hepatitis C and resume leading a normal and healthy life.

Please contact us if you are interested in learning more about the generic Harvoni, its components, manufacturers, licensing, etc. Seize the opportunity for effective hepatitis C treatment today by visiting our Shop page!