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What is the Hepatitis C Virus & Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C (Hep C) is a contagious disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV) and is passed via direct contact with blood from a person infected with hepatitis C. The liver, the largest organ in the body, has many important functions, including removing harmful waste and toxins from the blood and converting food into substances needed for life and growth. The term "hepatitis" means inflammation of the liver. There are other viruses in the hepatitis family (such as hepatitis A and hepatitis B), but HCV is not related to them.
Hepatitis C occurs in acute and chronic forms; symptoms can range from no symptoms to severe. Acute hepatitis occurs if the condition last less than 6 months. If it last longer than 6 months, it becomes chronic hepatitis and can lead to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), liver failure, and possible liver cancer. There are conventional medical treatments available for hepatitis C, but some people also try complementary and alternative medicine ( CAM).
Using Complementary & Alternative Medicine:
Complementary medicine is a term used to describe non-conventional medicine healing practices that are used in combination with conventional medicine; where as alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. Be aware that there are conventional medicine practitioners that also practice CAM. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is also a common practice in CAM.
Why do people use Complimentary and Alternative Medicine for hepatitis C?
- They have not responded to prescription medicine treatments.
- They are experiencing harmful side effects from conventional drugs.
- They choose to support their body's fight against damage by hepatitis C, and they hear of benefits claimed for some CAM treatments--such as "strengthens the immune system" or "cleanses or rejuvenates the liver" (or other organs).
- They are not interested in drug treatments due to factors such as the harmful side effects or length of treatment.
- They may be experiencing problems from other diseases and conditions that can be caused by or worsened by hepatitis C.
- They are simply not satisfied with their conventional medical treatment.
What type of CAM therapies do people with hepatitis C use?
There is some data from a survey published in 2002 on the use of CAM by persons who have chronic liver diseases (such as hepatitis, liver cancer, alcoholic liver disease, or cirrhosis).1 This survey of 989 patients being treated for various liver diseases at six clinics in the United States found that 39 percent used some form of "alternative therapy." The therapy they used the most was herbals or botanicals (21 percent). However, the herbals and botanicals were used for reasons besides liver disease, such as depression. Thirteen percent of all survey participants used herbals or botanicals specifically for their liver disease. The other most commonly used CAM therapies were self-prayer (18 percent), and (from 6 to 9 percent each) relaxation, megavitamins, massage, chiropractic, and spiritual healing.1
Quick Facts about the Hepatitis C Virus:
- The Hepatitis C virus is the most common blood borne infection in theUnited States. About 35,000 new cases are diagnosed in the United States each year.
- People who are at the highest risk for HCV infection are those who have used or experimented with injection drugs; received a blood transfusion, blood product, or organ transplant before July 1992; worked in health care and had a needle stick accident involving HCV-infected blood; or had multiple sex partners.
- A risk exists but is low (1 to 5 percent) for babies born to a mother with hepatitis C and for people who are in a monogamous sexual relationship with someone with hepatitis C; who have had other sexually transmitted diseases; who have had tattooing or body piercing done with un-sterilized tools; or who have used cocaine intra-nasally (i.e., "snorted" it).
- Hepatitis C is not spread through sneezing, coughing, kissing, hugging, food or water, or casual contact.
- People who are newly infected have what is called acute hepatitis C. For about 15 to 40 percent of this group, the infection is short-term, goes away, and does not return. Others develop chronic (or long-lasting) hepatitis C, in which the virus stays in the liver, replicates itself, and injures the liver over time.
- Chronic hepatitis C may cause liver disease, cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer, and liver failure. However, persons who have been diagnosed with hepatitis C need to know that serious illness or death from the disease is by no means inevitable--especially if they take proper care of themselves and get the health care they need.
1. Strader DB, Bacon BR, Lindsay KL, et al. Use of complementary and alternative medicine in patients with liver disease. The American Journal of Gastroenterology. 2002;97(9):2391-2397.