Hepatitis C is an inflammation of the liver that is triggered by the hepatitis C virus. It has a worldwide prevalence and is one of the most common infectious diseases. Around 71 million people are affected by this. A differentiation is made between acute and chronic infection. The acute infection can resolve spontaneously in up to 40% of cases. Yet it turns into a chronic form in about 3 out of 4 cases, i.e. the hepatitis C viruses can still be detected in the blood 6 months after infection. Untreated, up to 20% of people with chronic hepatitis C develop cirrhosis after 20 years. Liver cirrhosis increases the risk of developing liver cancer.1
Read more about how cirrhosis can develop and its effects here.
The hepatitis C virus is primarily transmitted through blood-to-blood contact, but it may also be found in other body fluids such as saliva, semen, sweat or even tears. Typical situations with a risk of infection include, for example:1
There are no symptoms of the disease that unambiguously indicate hepatitis C. The disease progresses inconspicuously or mildly in about 75% of those affected. Those suffering from fatigue, lack of energy, non-specific upper abdominal pain, itching and joint pain for a longer period of time should talk to a doctor about it. Raised liver function tests are another possible indication of hepatitis C infection. Hepatitis C can also trigger symptoms outside the liver, such as kidney disease, joint problems, skin disorders and depression. Those affected by hepatitis C also have an increased risk of diabetes mellitus.1
Blood is tested for antibodies against the hepatitis C virus in order to detect a hepatitis C infection. The presence of these antibodies in the blood is not necessarily an indication of an active hepatitis C infection. If you have contracted hepatitis C in the past and have recovered, the antibodies will remain in your body for life. If the result is positive – i.e. antibodies can be detected – then another blood test is carried out to check whether the hepatitis C virus can still be found. It is only then that the diagnosis of hepatitis C is deemed to be confirmed. Caution: Re-infection with the hepatitis C virus is still possible even after successful treatment.1
This examination is particularly useful for: 2
Everyone with statutory health insurance can be tested for hepatitis C (and B) once free of charge from the age of 35 as part of the health check-up.3
Acute hepatitis C does not usually require treatment, since it often clears up on its own.1 In the case of the chronic form – i.e. when the virus is detected, no signs of acute hepatitis are present and no risk of transmission can be detected in the previous 6 months – several drugs with a direct antiviral effect are approved, which are usually well tolerated and very effective.1,4 A blood test is carried out after the end of the treatment to check whether hepatitis C viruses can still be detected in order to ensure that the treatment was successful.1
Caution: Re-infection with the hepatitis C virus is still possible even after successful treatment.1
There is currently no vaccination against hepatitis C. It is therefore all the more important to avoid a possible infection by taking appropriate measures. Important for avoiding infection:1
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