Hepatitis C Virus

Author: 
Adoptive Families Association of BC
Source: 
Focus on Adoption magazine

Definition
Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) is a viral infection transmitted through blood, which focuses its attack on the body’s liver.

Causes
The virus is transmittable only through direct infection of blood. This includes blood transfusions done before 1990 and contaminated needles (injections, tattoos, piercing, drugs). There is a very small chance of the disease being transmitted through sex or giving birth as well. However, the disease is not transmittable through coughing, sneezing, physical contact, saliva, or insect bites.

Characteristics
As is the case with Hepatitis B, many of those infected will not feel ill immediately. The disease can take up to 6 or 7 weeks before it makes itself known. Initial symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Jaundice (more rare in initial stages)

The disease then progresses to liver disease including cirrhosis and liver cancer. However the speed of its progress is highly variable. Some patients may remain infected for years, even decades, without much change, especially those infected at a young age.

Those in more advanced stages of the disease may experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Jaundice
  • Nausea
  • Hair loss
  • Weight loss
  • Water retention

Also in the more severe cases where the disease has begun to inhibit liver function, those suffering may become:

  • Unresponsive
  • Forgetful
  • Unfocused
  • Sleep deprived

Without the liver functioning properly, harmful toxins and wastes can begin to build up in the patient’s body. Unchecked, the virus has the capacity to destroy the liver, but with treatment most patients survive.

Treatment
The faster the patient receives treatment, the better the results. Although research is ongoing, the most common treatment of HCV is pegylated interferon, either on its own, or in combination with ribavirin. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine against HCV, but there is for both Hepatitis A and B. Anyone infected with HCV should make sure to get vaccinated against the other two in order to protect their liver from further damage. 

For those in end-stage hepatitis, suffering from liver cancer or cirrhosis, a liver transplant is an option to consider. If the disease can not be slowed enough or if the damage to the liver is great enough, the transplant may be a last resort.


This resource is by no means intended as a substitute for a doctor's advice or diagnosis. Any concerns you may have with regard to your child's health and development should be discussed with a professional in an appropriate field.