HCV, commonly known as Hepatitis C (Hep C) is an infection caused by a virus that affects the liver by causing inflammation and possibly leading to cirrhosis (liver damage), as well as other medical difficulties pertaining to the liver such as cancer. Just like any virus Hep C is contagious and can be contracted by contaminated blood (sharing razors, toothbrush, needle sticks, etc.), semen, as well as saliva. It is also said that an increased amount of exposure to alcohol, chemicals, poisons, toxins, as well as certain medications can lead to Hepatitis C. Other diseases can also play a major factor in contracting Hepatitis C.
Yes, you heard that right- exposure to long term use of certain medications can cause inflammation of the liver. Many common medications are said to possibly lead to drug induced hepatitis (liver inflammation). There medications include:
- Anabolic steroids
- Birth control pills
- Halothane (a type of anesthesia)
- Sulfa drugs
- Some anti-seizure medicines
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, diclofenac, and naproxen
- OTC fever reducers and painkillers containing acetaminophen
You can be asymptomatic to Hepatitis C just as other viral infections. This means that you will not always have symptoms of this infection. It can go undetected for a very long time with no sign of the infection. Symptoms for this infection vary such as:
- Pain in the right upper abdomen
- Abdominal swelling due to fluid (ascites)
- Clay-colored or pale stools
- Dark urine
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and Eyes)
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
Reports have noted that Hep C is very common in Veterans. It’s already enough that there are high variables in traditional risks contracting Hep C for the general population of the US (non veterans). But veterans have additional exposures to Hep C, potentially due to military experiences, such as to inoculations, injection drug use, tattoos, blood transfusions, multiple sex partners (including prostitution), incarceration, as well as combat medical workers.
Hepatitis C treatment includes antiviral medications. There have been some reports that state some veterans may be diagnosed but not undergoing/sticking to treatment due to compliance or efficacy when there are other medical and psychiatric conditions. Other factors that went into treatment hurdles for veterans is cost of treatment. A 12 week treatment for veterans can average anywhere from 40-80 thousand dollars. In 2014 the VA was said to have spent about $500 million in treatment for veterans who were Hep C positive. There are about 174,000 possibly undiagnosed/untreated veterans with Hep C currently.
Can Hep C be cured? Prior to 2 years ago, HCV was not said to be a ‘curable’ disease. After successful treatment for Hep C your blood work may not detect the virus. Study shows that relapse in 1-2% may be rare but does not make it impossible to occur. The VA has requesting additional funds be provided for further treatment in general.
What does this mean for you? It is important to be aware of circumstances that could lead to contracting Hep C. As mentioned earlier, mass inoculations were extremely common in the military in the Vietnam era.