The hepatitis C virus is a bloodborne infection that is spread through infected body fluids and most commonly, intravenous drug use. Throughout Canada and the U.S. it is a major health concern, with 3.5 million people in the United States alone suffering from the disease. The hepatitis C virus, also known as HCV, is part of the hepatitis family of viruses. Hepatitis inflames the liver and commonly creates health problems in many alcoholics. It is caused by toxins like drugs and alcohol and can also be caused by pathogens such as parasites, bacteria or viruses. The viral kind of hepatitis is what hepatitis C is. Using drugs intravenously and sharing needles can infect someone with hepatitis C. Injecting drugs is the most common method of contraction for people who develop HCV. If it is left untreated, HCV can lead to cirrhosis of the liver. The liver begins to deteriorate and malfunction, leading to eventual failure. It can also be a contributing factor in liver cancer.
With intravenous drug use on the rise, cases of hepatitis C also begin to rise, due to the sharing of needles. Treatment is key to stop the spread of this disease. Many users may not be aware of treatment options or that they have access to treatments that could prevent the disease from getting worse. Treatments include hospitalization and direct-acting antiviral therapy (DAA). Addicts who seek treatment are usually concerned first with their addiction and may not understand the severity of their hepatitis C diagnosis or be able to mentally take on more than one issue at a time. Sometimes, patients skip screenings that could ultimately save their lives. Tom Nealon, president and CEO of the American Liver Foundation, stated that hepatitis C “can be cured the moment we identify somebody”. Some patients may go years without being screened or having any symptoms that point to the disease. Screening remains an important factor in treating patients and preventing the spread of more infection.
Symptoms of hepatitis include jaundice or yellowed skin, flu-like symptoms, stomach pain, fatigue, weight loss, and enlarged liver. As the virus goes on, the liver tissue begins to become inflamed and may cause symptoms. Regardless of the length of infection, modern treatment methods can now cure 50%-95% of patients, in which the virus is not detected in the blood for 3 months after treatment began. Patients with hepatitis C who do not seek treatment may not recover after the diseases has progressed to a severe phase. If the disease persists for more than 6 months, it is then considered chronic.
Addiction and treatment centers are familiar with the link between addiction and hepatitis C infection and should offer medical intervention if the patient is screened. Less than 20% of cases will ever resolve without this type of medical intervention. Patients who have been diagnosed with a dual addiction and hepatitis C diagnosis should attend a treatment center to help them recover and improve their chances of recovering from hepatitis .