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Hepatitis C and the Liver

By at November 28, 2010 | 1:56 pm | Print

Hepatitis C and the Liver

Hepatits C and the Liver:
Written by Saleem Chauhan.

Hepatitis is a Latin word meaning inflamed liver, which is usually caused by a virus. As many other viruses can cause harm to the liver, hepatitis viruses directly attack the liver. There are seven types of hepatitis viruses, but three are most common: A, B, and C. Hepatitis viruses can spread from person to person; however, viruses transmit into the human body differently. For instance, hepatitis A can get into a human body by contaminated food and water. Hepatitis B and C, however, can transmit only through blood-to-blood contact. Hepatitis A and B can be treated by vaccination, but there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, yet the world’s worst known enemy remains at large. In order to combat the enemy, we’ve to know the enemy. For that reason, the causes, symptoms, affects, preventions, and treatments are described below.  

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) has been known as a “Silent Epidemic.” Millions of people across the globe have been affected with hepatitis C virus. It is hard to know if someone has hepatitis C because many people are not even aware of it, and there are no symptoms for decades after getting infected. Although there are no symptoms, it is important to get tested, which many people avoid. People in developing countries might have an issue about getting tested because of lack of resources. However, in the United States, hepatitis C is the leading cause for developing cancer or liver damage. Also, in the United States, “Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is a serious public health problem in the United States and throughout the world. At least 80% of acute infections become chronic (FN1); an estimated 3.2 million persons in the United States alone have chronic HCV infection (FN2). In 2004, an HCV diagnosis was made in 936 of 100,000 outpatient visits for healthcare and in 143 of 100,000 hospital discharges (FN3). This is a chronic infection in which complications are manifested decades after the initial infection. Complications and costs associated with chronic HCV infection are anticipated to increase during 2010-2019 (FN4), because the incidence of new infections peaked from the late 1960s to early 1980s (FN5)” (Emerging Infectious Diseases, 2007, p. 1499-502).

The HCV is too serious to ignore and there are no excuses why people should not get tested. When someone knows: First, he/she has injected street drugs, as the needles and other equipments used to prepare or inject the drug(s) may have had someone else’s blood that contained HCV on them. Second, he/she received blood, blood products, or solid organs from a donor whose blood contained HCV. Third, he/she was ever on long term kidney dialysis, as he/she may have unknowingly shared supplies or equipment that had someone else’s blood on them. Fourth, he/she ever worked in healthcare industry and had frequent contact with blood on the job, especially accidental needle sticks. Fifth, his/her mother had hepatitis C at the time she gave birth because during the birth her blood may have gotten into his/her body. Sixth, he/she ever had sex with an HCV infected person. Seventh, he/she has lived with someone who was infected with HCV and shared items such as razors or toothbrushes that might have had that person’s blood on them. Eight, he/she had tattoos, piercing, or acupuncture.

In addition, a HCV infected person may not experience symptoms at all, but that does not mean HCV is not damaging the infected person’s liver. The worst part of it is that without showing symptoms, HCV turns into long lasting liver infected virus because the immune system is unable to fight against the virus. Also, hepatitis C is an asymptomatic condition—which means the infected person may not have symptoms for many years after he/she got infected. Next, no one can predict if an infected person will have symptoms in the future or not. Needless to say, the virus is always active in the body without producing recognizable symptoms. As a matter of fact, many infected people have no symptoms at all until their liver is seriously damaged. Most important, the HCV, infected person’s symptoms may be any combination of the following: Fatigue or flu like symptoms, fever, chills, muscle aches, joint pain, and headaches. Also, nausea, aversion to certain foods, unexplained weight loss or psychological disorders, and including depression. Next, tenderness in the abdomen and jaundice is common.

Every part of the human body is unique and serves a purpose. The functions of the liver are extremely essential to the human body. The location of the liver is the upper right side of the abdomen, and it is the largest organ in the human body. The liver filters and removes toxins and waste products from the blood. A healthy liver filters blood at 1.5 quarts per minute, which is 540 gallons of blood a day. The liver also serves the purpose of storing vitamins, minerals, and iron. Moreover, the liver plays a major role in producing and controlling the amounts of chemicals and proteins in the body, such as cholesterol, hormones, and sugars. Last, the liver helps the body to digest food and produce bile whose home is in the gallbladder (“Liver Inflammation,” 2008).  

When the life destroying HCV enters a body, it directly attacks the liver and reproduces itself. First, in reaction the body fights back and sends lymphocytes (white blood cells) to the liver, which results in inflammation (swelling) of the liver. At that time inflammation is the normal response to infection, but as time passes by certain chemicals are released by the lymphocytes that can damage the liver cells permanently. As the liver cells get damaged, they cannot function well and eventually die. Second, some cells grow back, but injury leads to fibrosis (a buildup of scar tissue on the liver). Third, fibrosis slows down the liver’s ability to circulate blood and remove toxins. Last, cirrhosis occurs, which means as time passes hardened scar tissues replace large amounts of normal liver tissues, thus seriously damaging the liver’s ability to function properly (“Liver Inflammation,” 2008). See picture of healthy and infected liver below, please!

The devastating facts of HCV are horrible and can destroy not only the HCV infected person’s life, but the lives of people associated with the infected person. Indeed, who wants to lose their loved ones? Since, no vaccine has been invented to prevent hepatitis C there are, however, many ways in which infection may be avoided. For instance, those who inject drugs should never share needles, syringes, swabs, spoons, or anything else that is exposed to bodily fluids. They should always use clean equipment. Hands should be washed before and after contact with another person’s blood or if the skin is penetrated. Also, the sharing of personal items should be avoided, particularly those that can puncture the skin or inside of the mouth, such as razors, nail files, scissors, and even toothbrushes. Next, condoms should be used for either vaginal or oral sex. On the other hand, let’s say, if someone does develop hepatitis C, its spread may be prevented by not donating blood, sharing personal items with others, wiping out spilled blood without using gloves, and unprotected sex.

Again, there is no vaccine or cure for HCV virus. But anyone who has a positive test for the HCV virus in their blood and a liver biopsy that indicates liver damage or an elevated amount of the liver enzyme ALT may receive treatment. However, when HCV destroys most or all the liver, the only solution is a liver transplant. Finding a suitable donor liver, however, can be difficult, and sometimes impossible. Last, the hepatitis C bullet could be dodged by avoiding the virus. Indeed, the best way to survive is to stay away from health hazardous situations.

                                                          References

A meta-analysis of the hepatitis C virus distribution in diverse racial/ethnic drug  injector groups. Social Science & Medicine. 68 (3) February 2009.

Judd, S. (2006). Hepatitis sourcebook. Detroit, Michigan: Omnigraphics press,Inc.

Liver inflammation, natural standard, 2008. (November 12, 2010). Retrieved from           http://www.righthealth.com/topic/Liver_Inflammation/overview/NaturalStandard20?fdid=NaturalStandard_9a2dd2d51878ec4c514435923201fd57

Northern Ireland hepatitis C clinical network. (November 15, 2010). Retrieved from H:\Biology of Health Disease\hepc  Hepatitis C Clinical Network Northern Ireland.mht

Population-based surveillance for hepatitis C virus, United States, 2006-2007.

(November 17, 2010). St. Louis Community College. Retrieved from                                      https://ezproxy.stlcc.edu/login?url=http://vnweb.hwwilsonweb.com/hww/jumpstart.jhtml?recid=0bc05f7a67b1790e02a2ecb41370fc6d399e2bad3d29f89faa16535ea211914043d99465fd38e018&fmt=H

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