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    Hepatitis C Management

    A Brief Guide for Nurses

    Hepatitis C - An Overview

    Hepatitis C virus is known to cause both chronic and acute infections. The HCV infection is generally asymptomatic. A few people who suffer from hepatitis lead a normal life without any life-threatening condition.

    It is estimated that almost 30% of people who are infected by this disease get clear within 6 months of infection without the need for any specific treatment. Initially, the treatment of Hepatitis C required oral medications and weekly injections.

    This form of treatment was not well appreciated by HCV infected patients due to adverse side effects or health-related problems.

    It has been observed that chronic HCV is easily curable with oral medications that patients can take every day for two to six months depending on the severity.

    With science advancing, even to date half of the people who suffer from HCV are not aware of them being infected. This is simply because they don't have any symptoms. The symptoms of HCV take decades to appear.

    For the same reason, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all adults aged between 17-79 years should be screened for Hepatitis C. This includes all those people who have no symptoms or any liver disease history.

    It is believed that people belonging from 1045 to 1965 are at a higher risk of contracting the disease. This population is five times at greater risk in comparison to people born in other years.

    Hepatitis C - Latest US Statistics

    Millions of Americans belonging to different spheres of life are suffering from viral hepatitis. Unfortunately, most of them do not know that they are carrying the virus. It is estimated that 2.4 million people in the United States suffer from Hepatitis C.

    The actual figure can be as alarming as 4.7 million. It is estimated that 850,000 people in the United States are suffering from Hepatitis B. the actual figure is perceived to be as high as 2.2 million.

    A majority of people battling hepatitis are not aware of the fact that they have the disease. Thereby, they are at a higher risk of contracting life-threatening liver ailments and cancer. Moreover, such people are unintentionally transmitting the disease.

    What are the Signs and Symptoms of Hepatitis C?

    Hepatitis C becomes chronic if a person suffers from a long-term infection. This infection remains to be silent for several years until the virus completely damages the liver. The damage is thus reflected in the form of signs and symptoms of liver ailments.

    Signs and symptoms include:

    • Bleeding easily
    • Bruising easily
    • Fatigue
    • Poor appetite
    • Yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
    • Dark-colored urine
    • Itchy skin
    • Fluid buildup in your abdomen (ascites)
    • Swelling in your legs
    • Weight loss
    • Confusion, drowsiness, and slurred speech (hepatic encephalopathy)
    • Spider-like blood vessels on your skin (spider angiomas)

    Hepatitis C is a disease that starts in its acute phase. This phase often goes undiagnosed as the patient does not depict any symptoms. In cases where the signs and symptoms are visible, a patient suffers from jaundice alongside fever, muscle ache, and nausea.

    If your symptoms are acute, the effects will be visible one to three months after exposure to the disease. Moreover, the side effects last for two weeks to a max of three months.

    Acute Hepatitis C is not generally chronic. Few people clear HCV from their bodies post the acute phase. This mechanism is known as spontaneous viral clearance.

    In cases where people are diagnosed with acute HCV, the ratio of spontaneous viral clearance can vary from 15% to 25%. Moreover, acute hepatitis C tends to respond better to antiviral therapy.

    Hepatitis C Nursing Management

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 3.2 million Americans are suffering from Hepatitis C. Often nurses encounter patients who suffer from chronic liver infection.

    As a nurse, it is your responsibility to care for patients suffering from Hepatitis C. This can be done by educating the patient and their families regarding the disease and restricting the transmission of the infection to loved ones, peers, and patients.

    Infection Control Precautions

    If a nurse has been in contact with any patient suffering from Hepatitis C, he/she only needs to follow the infection control precautions predefined for contact with any such patient. With Hepatitis C patients, gowns and masks are not required.

    Nurses should wear gloves while drawing blood, handling body fluids, or giving IVs. All needles and contaminated objects need to be disposed of or contained. Furthermore, nurses are required to wash their hands after every patient.

    Even if you wear gloves, try to change it after each patient. Moreover, blood spills need to be cleaned with 10 parts water and one part bleach.

    Needle Sticks

    If you are dealing with patients suffering from Hepatitis C in the clinic or hospital, you need to be very careful regarding how you dispose of the needles.

    For instance, while drawing blood, starting IVs, or leaving needles without properly disposing of them can increase the probability of transmission of the virus.

    According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports, it is estimated that 600,000 to 800,000 needle sticks are used per annum, where half of the needles are not reported.

    All nurses must use the safety tools provided with IV catheters and sets for drawing blood. They cover the needles after they have been used.

    All needles must be disposed of in sharp containers after use ensuring that the needles stay away from all nurses and visitors.

    All nurses who get punctured with an infected needle must report to the hospital administration and get tested.

    Transmission

    It is believed that a nurse cannot catch hepatitis C or transmit to peers or patients as easily as they can contract any respiratory-related disease. Hepatitis C is transmitted via bodily fluids like semen or saliva.

    The disease is not spread by eating in the same utensil or kissing one another. Moreover, the virus can survive in dry blood for roughly 16 hours and almost four hours on tables and floors.

    Hepatitis C Nursing Care Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    Is Hepatitis C contagious?

    Yes, Hepatitis C is contagious and can transmit from one person to another. The disease is transmitted via blood-to-blood transfer. This transmission can occur by sharing needles, acupuncture, tattoo needles, surgical or diagnostic instruments, sexual contact, and organ transplants.

    It needs to be noted that casual contact such as skin-to-skin contact including hugging and kissing can rarely transmit the disease.

    As a nurse, what can I do to prevent the spread of Hepatitis C?

    By taking necessary precautionary measures, and generating awareness regarding the disease to patients, families, and society at large can help prevent the transmission of the disease.

    Should I isolate a Hepatitis C patient?

    It is not necessary to isolate a Hepatitis C patient, rather taking precautionary measures can restrict the transmission of the disease.

    How common is Hepatitis C in the US?

    According to the CDC, the real number of HCV acute cases is approximately 41,000. Almost 3.5 million people in the United States are suffering from chronic HCV.

    The disease is prevalent across the globe. The highest ratio of HCV is in Northern Africa, East Asia, and Central Asia. As per the WHO, Hepatitis C and B are chronic ailments affecting millions of people globally.

    Is there a season for Hepatitis C outbreak?

    So far, no seasonal pattern has been seen in terms of AHB, AHE, AHA, or AHC. However, spring and summer are considered peak seasons for Hepatitis A, B, C, and E.

    Should Hepatitis C be treated with antibiotics?

    Hepatitis C can be cured with antiviral medications that help in clearing the virus from the body.

    The ultimate goal is to ensure that the virus remains undetected for roughly 12 weeks from the body post-treatment.