Hepatitis is an inflammatory liver disease often caused by a virus. While there are many types of hepatitis, the most common in the United States are hepatitis A virus, hepatitis B virus, and hepatitis C virus. While there are vaccinations for the A and B viruses, no such vaccine exists for hepatitis C.
The good news is that while hepatitis C cannot be entirely prevented through a vaccination, the infection is now curable! (More on that in a bit.) Let’s begin by taking a closer look at this illness…
What Is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a liver infection; severity can range from a mild illness to a serious, chronic illness. Of those who contract hepatitis C, more than three in four will develop a chronic hepatitis C infection. Some individuals (fewer than one in four) will clear hepatitis C from their body without any treatment; researchers do not fully understand why this happens.
Acute v. Chronic Hepatitis C
Acute hepatitis C is used to describe a new infection; it typically occurs within six months of exposure to the virus.
Chronic hepatitis C may last throughout a patient’s entire lifetime. This infection could result in scarring, cancer, or damage of the liver. In some cases, chronic hepatitis C may even result in death.
The Prevalence of Hepatitis C
2,967 cases of acute hepatitis C were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016. However, many people with hepatitis C do not experience symptoms; others experience symptoms, but do not know the cause of their illness. In reality, the CDC estimates there were as many as 41,200 cases of hepatitis C in 2016 – nearly 14x the number of cases actually reported.
A Cure for Hepatitis C
As stated, above there is now a cure for hepatitis C. Treatments have improved markedly over the last few years. Now, more than 90% of people with hepatitis C can be successfully treated with an 8-12 week round of oral therapy. A list of FDA-approved drugs (many of which have few or mild side effects) can be reviewed here. Talk to your doctor to learn more about these hepatitis C drugs. In addition to undergoing a clinical treatment, patients with hepatitis C should focus on caring for their liver.
What You Need to Know About Sustained Virologic Response (SVR)
If you’ve been researching hepatitis C, you may have heard about “sustained virologic response (SVR).” A virologic response refers to the presence of the hepatitis C virus being detected in the blood. If the virus cannot be detected in the blood after at least 12 weeks post-treatment, then a sustained virologic response has been achieved.
Having an SVR is essentially what it means to be “cured” of hepatitis C! Approximately 99% of people who experience a sustained virologic response live without the virus. Hepatitis C only returns in fewer than one percent of patients who achieve SVR. And, in many cases, that virus is actually the result of a new infection (i.e. being reintroduced to hepatitis C through a new exposure).
Once you achieve SVR you are no longer contagious, additional liver damage ceases, and liver function may improve. Not only does achieving SVR mean the virus is gone, but it also stops the progression of liver disease and other risks and complications associated with liver damage.
If you have been diagnosed with hepatitis C, help is available! Take action with your doctor today.