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Hepatitis C

Electron micrographs of hepatitis C virus

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What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a viral infection of the liver that is contracted from blood on blood contact or from sexual contact. Some people have what is called a “mild acute infection”. These are the lucky ones. A mild acute infection disappears on its own without treatment. Those that are not so lucky have what is called “chronic hepatitis C”. This form of the virus is usually marked by fatigue and the impairment of liver function. You are considered to have chronic hepatitis C if the virus is still present after 6 months without treatment. When diagnosed with chronic hep C one is at risk of developing cirrhosis of the liver and/or liver cancer.

How Can I Get Hepatitis C?

There are several ways in which one can contract the hep. C virus. Statistics have shown that the number one way is by I.V. drug use. “Sharing needles” is so common among I.V. drug users. In my experience as a user the most shared part of the injection process was the device used to hold the water and mixture of the drug. In most cases this is a spoon or a small cap or tin. Even using the same source of water as another user will most defiantly put a user at high risk or getting infected.

If you are going to use I.V. drugs, and I suggest that you DO NOT, but if it’s going to happen, the most important way to protect yourself is to always have a clean (meaning brand new/still in the package) syringe. The second part of that is having your own clean water source and personal spoon or cup device. DO NOT let anyone else touch these things as your life will depend on keeping them clean! If you are an I.V. drug user I suggest getting into a professional rehab program overseen by a physician. I’ll have more on this in the Getting Help section.

That being said, another way in which it is possible to contract hep C is by blood transfusion. Today this is a rare occurrence. However, in the 1980s our blood supply was not screened for this virus as there was not a test invented yet. Today you would have a 1 in 10,000 chance of being infected by blood transfusion.

Tattooing, piercing, and acupuncture are also problematic if the equipment is not properly sanitized. There is a small possibility of spreading hep C by sharing razors or tooth brushes due to very small amounts of particulate blood that could be on these devices. Also watch out for contact of the mucous membrane. What I mean is there is a possibility of blood being present on or near mucous membranes. For example, when using powdered cocaine it may be possible to spread the virus by sharing a straw or other like device.

Sexual Transmission

There is a low possibility of spreading hepatitis C through sexual contact.  Hep C can be present in the menstrual blood of infected women. It is important to be aware of your partner’s cycle for this and other obvious reasons. Doctors say that you cannot get infected from seamen, saliva, or urine unless there are blood particles present.

What is “Blood On Blood Contact”

Blood on blood contact refers to the way that the hepatitis C virus is transmitted between two people. There are any number of ways that this accomplished, but we’ll start with the one that most people succumb to, and that’s I.V. Drug Use.

It’s never anyone’s intention to be careless. It’s just that the nature of I.V. Drug use is not a cautious one. Many users start out with the “safest” intentions but over time they begin to engage in riskier and less cautious behavior. The reason for this is that the drugs take you over more and more each time you use them. For instance, when a heroin user does not have his or her “fix” by the time they start to become ill, they will be more likely to use some one else’s spoon, or even scarier yet some one else’s needle to “get the hit in” faster. It’s actually fairly common among I.V. Drug users. Besides being completely unsanitary both of these behaviors are a great way to contaminate your blood with a positive user’s blood!


Symptoms of Chronic Hepatitis C

Chronic Hepatitis C is basically the term given to a patient that shows continued symptoms for months that also increase in severity. A large percentage of people will have no symptoms at all from this virus. Hepatitis C is known to stay dormant for years in the body. It is possible to live a long life with most types of this virus depending upon abstinence from alcohol and proper nutrition. I’ll go over medication and the percent of cure rate in a minute. Here are some but not all symptoms:

Anxiety
Ascites (swelling in the stomach area)
Blurred Vision
Chills
Dark Urine
Dizziness
Edema (swelling of the hands, feet & legs)
Eye or eyesight problems (blurred vision or dry eyes)
Fatigue, Fever, Flu-like symptoms
Gray, yellow, white or light colored stools
Headaches
Hot flashes
Insomnia, Irritability, Itching
Jaundice (yellowing of eyes and/or skin)

If you have some of these symptoms it would be wise to get a blood test for Hep C. It is a simple test that is covered by most insurance. If you do not have insurance don’t give up! Call the local labs in your area and ask to be put on the “Charity” program. It helps if you call your local emergency room and ask if they have a charity program. I did it and it saved my ass! Also if you find out that you are positive and do not have insurance start the ball rolling on getting set up on Medicaid. It will be a struggle for some of you to get accepted but don’t give up eventually you’ll get it right and you will get some sort of plan! It took me three months of paper work to finally get approved. Don’t get discouraged, you may have a better experience! Your gonna need the coverage for the medicine.

Treatment

Treatment for Hepatitis C has made some great advances over the last few years.  While there are only a few mainstream methods used to treat the virus right now, I have seen a lot of promising medical breakthroughs recently that should be available within the next couple of years. At the present time there are two popular medications that deal with the virus. The first is called Interferon. This medication is used for cancer treatment and viral treatment. Although doctors and scientists have no idea how, interferon boosts the immune system to fight off the virus more aggressively. It is usually given by injection 3-5 times weekly. Doctors may also use Ribavirin in conjunction with interferon. This drug is another anti-viral medication that stops the virus that causes Hepatitis C from spreading through the body. It is usually taken in pill form a couple of times a day. It should be pointed out that these medications can have very serious side effects. Interferon may cause flu-like symptoms such as headache, fever, vomiting, nausea, muscle aches and pains, fatigue, and chills. These can last the duration of the treatment period which can be anywhere from 6 months to 1 year. This combination of therapy has been 90% effective in treating certain genotypes of the virus. The percentage drops down to 30% – 60% for more virulent strains. Taking a blood test will tell your doctor what treatment to use.  Click this link to find out about the latest Hepatitis C Information.

Natural Supplements

Most doctors have a lot of negativity when it comes to natural supplements. That is OK. Let them do what they were trained to do. It’s not their fault they were misinformed.  It has become more and more apparent that the pharmaceutical industry is not as interested in your well being as it is with it’s bottom line.  There are many examples of the industry keeping harmful and even deadly products on the market long after they knew about the injuries and deaths.  This is a subject that I could get into with volumes of examples and information, but this is not the place.

The important thing is that you don’t look at it as a yes or no / black or white problem.  It is very complicated and has a lot of grey area in between.  The best way to navigate through the current medical system is to think for yourself and don’t just blindly follow what the pharmaceutical industry tells you.  There are many drugs out there that are in your best interest to take and then there are others that are questionable in their use.

I personally have been using a few supplements for years now. I know for a fact that they have had a huge positive impact on my health. For my liver, I have been taking Milk Thistle. It has had a great impact on my liver health and there is growing clinical evidence that it’s benefits should be taken seriously.  It’s important to note that most liver specialists will not recommend the use of natural supplements for your liver health.  In fact, some out there may even make it worse off!  But I can tell you that most all liver specialists will recommend Milk Thistle.


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