Hepatitis C (HCV) is a single stranded RNA virus that was officially discovered in 1989. Prior to its discovery, it was referred to as non-A, non-B hepatitis virus, as it did not fit into the existing categories of hepatitis A and B. Unlike hepatitis A and B, which were already known to be associated with blood transfusions, cases of hepatitis were being reported where neither A nor B were present in the blood samples of affected individuals. HCV is a bloodborne virus that causes inflammation of the liver, and it is primarily transmitted through blood-to-blood contact. The most common modes of transmission include improper sterilization of medical equipment, transfusion of unscreened blood, and sharing of needles among drug users. Additionally, vertical transmission from mother to child during birth and sexual intercourse between men can also lead to HCV infection.
Acute and Chronic Phases:
HCV infection can result in both acute and chronic conditions. The acute phase of HCV typically lasts for about six months and is characterized by the body’s immune response to the virus. During this phase, individuals often do not exhibit any symptoms, although rare cases may present with jaundice, fatigue, dark-colored urine, abdominal pain, nausea, fever, loss of appetite, and diarrhea. In most cases, the acute phase of HCV is cleared by the immune system.
However, if the infection persists beyond six months, it progresses to the chronic phase. Chronic HCV infection can lead to severe scarring of the liver, known as liver cirrhosis. Symptoms of chronic HCV infection may include easy bruising and bleeding, ascites (accumulation of fluid in the abdomen), itching, and the presence of a star-shaped vein pattern on the belly. The progression of the disease in the chronic phase can vary widely among patients, with some experiencing slow progression and others experiencing rapid deterioration of liver function.
Currently, there is no vaccine available to prevent HCV infection. However, effective treatments are available for individuals who develop chronic HCV infection. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends therapy with pan-genotypic direct-acting antivirals (DAA’s) for individuals over the age of 12. This treatment typically requires 12 to 24 weeks to complete and has shown high rates of success in curing HCV infection.
Given the alarming increase in HCV infection rates, it is crucial to implement strategies aimed at reducing its incidence. Lanini et al. (2016) propose five strategic directions to achieve a 70% reduction in HCV incidence by the year 2030. These directions include identifying the populations and geographic areas most affected by HCV (the who and where), implementing effective prevention and control measures (the what), developing innovative approaches for testing, treatment, and care (the how), securing adequate financing for HCV prevention and control programs (the financing), and investing in research and development to pave the way for future advancements in HCV prevention and treatment (the future).
Eradication of HCV:
Ultimately, the goal is to completely eradicate HCV. Achieving this goal will require a multi-faceted approach that combines prevention strategies, effective testing and treatment options, and ongoing research and development. By implementing these strategies and making the necessary investments, it is possible to significantly reduce the burden of HCV and eventually eliminate it as a public health threat.
In conclusion, HCV is a bloodborne virus that causes inflammation of the liver. It can be transmitted through blood-to-blood contact, and common modes of transmission include improper sterilization of medical equipment, unscreened blood transfusions, and needle sharing among drug users. HCV infection can lead to both acute and chronic conditions, with the chronic phase often resulting in severe liver scarring and cirrhosis. Treatment options are available for individuals with chronic HCV infection, but prevention strategies and ongoing research are essential for reducing the incidence of HCV and ultimately eradicating the virus.