Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C

Hep C can be cured!

Hepatitis C (or Hep C or HCV) is a dangerous virus that can infect the liver and lead to illness, liver failure, and eventually death. Since hep C was first recognized in 1989, it has been a long road to a solution. Thankfully, effective treatments that cure hep C are now available.

These new treatments are nothing like the old medication, interferon, that was used prior to 2013. They are easy-to-take pills with no side effects in most people. Delaying treatment can lead to serious and avoidable illness.

The time is right to be tested and treated for hepatitis C. KC CARE can help you get the hep C treatment you need. Email hepc@kccare.org or call the hep C Nurse Line at 816.268.1891 to begin hep C testing and treatment. Read on for more information about hepatitis C.

The CDC recommends that all adults 18 years or older are tested for hep C at least once.

  • Anyone born between 1945 – 1965
  • Current or former intravenous drug users
  • People with tattoos from an unregulated source
  • Anyone who has received a blood transfusion before 1992
  • Anyone who has received blood clotting factor concentrates before 198
  • Anyone else with a known exposure to hep C

Hepatitis C is primarily spread through blood-to-blood contact. Today, the major source of transmission of the virus is the sharing of injection needles or other equipment during intravenous drug use. In the past, hepatitis C was also transmitting by blood transfusions. Since 1990, infection control and blood donor screening precautions have made transmission of hepatitis C a rarer event. Getting a tattoo from an unlicensed source could also put you at risk for hepatitis C infection. 

Sexual transmission is possible but is less common. Hep C can also be transmitted from pregnant people to their fetus during pregnancy.  

Because medical protocols have changed over time, the CDC recommends that all people born between 1945 and 1965—even those without other risk factors—be tested for hepatitis C at least once. 

Hepatitis C is a common disease. The CDC estimates that 2.4 million people in the US are living with hep C. The rate of new infections of hep C decreasing from the 1980s until recently; new infections are rising, most dramatically in young people.  

Hepatitis C is a big deal. It is a major cause of death in the U.S. and worldwide. In fact, hep C leads to more deaths in the U.S. than 60 other types of infections, including HIV and tuberculosis, combined. That means that hepatitis C is the biggest killer among chronic viral infections in the U.S.  

Usually, hepatitis C kills people by slowly causing liver disease over time. Liver damage builds over time until eventually the liver fails. The liver is critical for many functions in the body—it helps process the food we eat, makes special proteins for our blood, and cleans out toxins and waste. We can’t live without a functioning liver.  

When the liver has been badly damaged and with scar tissue inside, we call that cirrhosis. This is the end stage of liver disease. Once you have cirrhosis, you are at risk for serious illness, such as liver cancer, swelling in the abdomen and legs, and internal bleeding.   

Hepatitis C’s impact does not stop at the liver. It can lead to severe kidney disease. Some patients lose the function of their kidneys and need dialysis to stay alive. It can also cause autoimmune problems and serious skin disease. It can even lead to a kind of blood cancer. These serious complications of hep C can happen at any time after infection—even years later.   

Even if hep C has not yet severely damaged your important organs, it may be affecting you. Many patients with hepatitis C have significant fatigue because their body is fighting an ongoing and exhausting battle with the virus! Many patients also develop joint pain and sometimes nausea or diarrhea. Hep C also puts people at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and may also increase the risk of depression.  

Hepatitis C infection sounds bad, and it is. Luckily, the treatment for hepatitis C is better than ever. We now have medication that can cure people of hep C. It is easy to take, and most of our patients have no side effects.  

Hepatitis C treatment used to be rough. Before 2013, the treatment included a medication called interferon (or “Peg-interferon”). That medication did not work very well and had many serious side effects. It was the best option for a long time, but we are very happy that we don’t need to use it anymore. In fact, we have been using the new medications since 2013 and have cured hundreds of patients.  

Today, hep C treatment involves taking 1-3 pills once a day. Most patients only need to take medication for 812 weeks before their lab work indicates they are cured of hep C.  

With proper evaluation before and monitoring during treatment, the risk of serious side effects is very low, and the chances of being cured with this medication are 98% or better if the medication is taken as directed.  

In the rare event that the medication does not work on the first course of treatment, we will repeat the treatment. Every time we have donethis, we have successfully cured a patient with the second treatment.   

Your hep C treatment medication must be taken as directed for the full course of treatment. If you only take part of the treatment, or if you stop and start the treatment, the chances of being cured go down.  

Hepatitis C medication has important interactions with other medications. You should consult with your doctor about your other over-the-counter medications and supplements. 

  • Heartburn and stomach medications, such as Tums, Maalox, and Prilosec, generally cannot be taken with hep C medication.  
  • Some seizure medications may cause the hep C medication to not work.  
  • Supplements, such as calcium, iron, and magnesium, do not mix well with hep C treatments.  
  • Your doctor at KC CARE will review these and other medication interactions with you.  

Hepatitis C medication should not be taken while pregnant. If you are trying to become pregnant, it is best to be cured of Hepatitis C first so you can’t pass the infection to the baby.  

Drinking alcohol can seriously harm your liverespecially if you have hep C. We advise patients stop drinking. However, even if a patient can’t stop drinking alcohol at this time, we still treat them for Hep C. Quitting alcohol is important and so is getting treated for hepatitis C. We encourage everyone to do both, but we don’t withhold treatment if someone is drinking.  

Some people use illicit drugs like methamphetamine or heroin. We encourage people to get help for drug addiction, but we also do not withhold hep C treatment if a patient is actively using or injecting drugs. We want you to be healthy; treating hep C will benefit you even if you are still using drugs.  

Treating and curing hepatitis C brings you great benefits. Don’t wait until more damage is done. Get treated now. KC CARE can help!