Chronic alcoholism and intravenous drug injections are both major causes of hepatitis C (HCV). In 2012, an estimated 21,870 cases of acute hepatitis C virus infections were reported in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Intravenous drug use is the main cause of HCV. This occurs when people share syringes with dirty needles. HCV can also be contracted if the blood of somebody infected with the virus enters the body of another person, this could happen in a variety of different ways, most commonly via blood transfusions. Alcoholic hepatitis C is a result of inflammation of the liver from many years of heavy drinking, as well as exposure to hepatitis C earlier in life via intravenous drug use or blood transfusion.
HCV is a positive-strand RNA virus that causes major liver disease. Acute hepatitis C is a short-term virus infection that occurs within the first six months of being exposed to the virus. This causes chronic hepatitis C for most people and can result in long-term health issues or death. Chronic hepatitis C can cause cirrhosis of the liver, as well as hepatocellular cancer. Progression of the disease usually appears in men who contracted the infection when they were younger than age 40, as well as in patients who are heavy drinkers.
HCV inflames the liver over the course of many years, which can lead to scarring. Studies show that most people with HCV never experience significant scarring or complications, but about 20 percent develop cirrhosis, which is advanced scarring throughout the liver. Because HCV is a slowly progressive virus, it can take 30 to 40 years for cirrhosis to develop. The liver regenerates cells and it’s believed that the more cells the liver regenerates, the higher the chances a mutation will occur, leading to the potential development of cancer. (Hansen 2014)
Treatment for HCV presents the end goal of trying to cure the virus. HCV treatment normally utilizes a combination of drugs. The specific medications used and the duration of treatment will normally depend on a number of factors. These factors often include the HCV genotype (genetic structure of the virus), the viral load, any past treatment experience the patient has had, the degree of liver damage, the patient’s ability to tolerate the prescribed treatment and whether the person is waiting for a liver transplant or is a transplant recipient. The most common medications used to treat Hepatitis C are Pegylated interferon and Ribavirin. Pegylated interferon is a long acting form of an interferon and can be used alone, but is usually always used with Ribavirin. Ribavirin is only used in combination with interferon, and can never be used alone to treat Hepatitis C.
The success of HCV treatment is defined by a sustained virological response (SVR). Achieving an SVR means the patient is absent of HCV RNA and is considered to be “cured” virologically. However, even when people achieve an SVR, they may still be at higher risk for developing liver cancer later on, especially if they waited to treat their HCV until they had cirrhosis.
The best way to prevent contracting the infection is to seek treatment for any alcohol abuse or intravenous drug use, as well as practicing safe-sex. Acute HCV usually isn’t treated, as people won’t often know that they have the virus. If there is no damage to the liver, many people won’t get treatment for Hepatitis C. However if damage of the liver is apparent, it is best to seek treatment as soon as possible.
Drug addiction is a very serious matter and not only will the addiction ruin a person’s life and reputation, it can also cause serious health complications such as HCV. Addictions can cause unnecessary and harmful situations not only in the addicts’/alcoholics’ life, but also in the lives of those around them.Whether treatment occurs in outpatient or inpatient settings, the right treatment program is available. The first step to getting the appropriate help is to contact a treatment center or therapist and discuss the different treatment options available.
To learn more about treatment for drug or alcohol addiction you can call the Recovery Helpline at 855-441-4405 for more information.