An effective vaccine capable of protecting against hepatitis C infection does not yet exist, which means that anyone can get it.
But there are also specific risk groups: drug addicts who use a shared syringe, people who were transfused before 1992;
people who have undergone several surgical procedures (including dental manipulations); people who have pierced or tattooed; people who often have manicures in different salons (especially in unknown places); children born from infected mothers; health care providers who are in regular contact with other people’s blood; people who have unprotected sex with different partners or with an infected partner.
Signs of hepatitis C
The incubation period in acute hepatitis C may last from 2 to 26 weeks, after which the disease occurs. The first sign of hepatitis is joint pain, reminiscent of a scrap of flu. They may be accompanied by weakness, loss of strength, headaches, sometimes – fever, nausea, pain in the right foothills, lack of appetite and digestive problems. The sickness may last up to 3 weeks. The above described symptoms are typical for many other diseases, which complicates early diagnosis. In addition, as already mentioned, acute hepatitis C may occur without symptoms at all.
If acute hepatitis C has not been cured and did not pass on their own (which happens infrequently), it goes into a chronic stage. Chronic hepatitis manifests itself already when the liver is significantly damaged.
The symptoms of progress of hepatitis C may be: yellowing of the proteins of the eyes, skin and mucous membranes, increased abdominal volume, persistent weakness and increased fatigue, recurrent abdominal pain, diarrhea and nausea.
What are the tests for hepatitis C?
If suspected of hepatitis C, the therapist refers the patient to a hepatologist or, less often, to a gastroenterologist. Different methods are used for diagnostics and first of all – laboratory methods, i.e., blood tests. Blood for hepatitis C analysis is taken on an empty stomach, at least 8 hours after the last meal. It is desirable to give the biomaterial in 6 weeks after the supposed moment of infection or later. The results of the tests are usually ready in 1-2 days.
As part of laboratory diagnostics, they are produced:
- A blood test for hepatitis C virus antibodies (immunoenzyme method) is one of the very first tests that shows whether the body has had contact with the virus;
- a blood test for hepatitis C virus RNA (PCR method) is performed if the antibody test is positive. This is the main method of hepatitis C diagnostics that allows the detection of the genetic material of the virus in the blood serum;
- a blood test for the genotype and amount of hepatitis C virus is the next step to know the number of hepatitis C virus RNA units that are present in a certain amount of blood. The virus concentration affects the risk of transmission and the effectiveness of treatment. Genotyping makes it possible to determine the type of virus (there are more than 10 of them in total);
- Biochemical analysis of blood on ALT, AST, GGTP, bilirubin gives an idea of the state of the liver.
Instrumental methods are also used in hepatitis C diagnostics:
- Ultrasound analysis of the abdominal organs, as well as X-ray analysis, endoscopy, CT and MRI are conducted to determine the structure, size and condition of the liver;
- Liver puncture biopsy is performed in order to evaluate the structure of gland tissue at a microscopic level;
- fibroelastography – ultrasound diagnostics that determines the elasticity and density of liver tissue.