The majority of infected patients do not experience any symptoms. Here’s what you need to know. By Esther Au Yong
Since the Singapore General Hospital started testing patients and staff for Hepatitis C, after discovering an outbreak in its renal ward, 325 patients have been tested. The hospital said on Monday, October 12, that 255 out of the 325 patients have tested negative. It added that a further 289 patients have confirmed their screening appointments.
Hepatitis C is known as a “shadow epidemic”. (Photo: 123rf.com/ Illia Uriadnikov)
Here’s more information about Hepatitis C:
Hepatitis C has been described as a “shadow epidemic” because of the asymptomatic nature of the infection. Based on the World Health Organization fact sheet on Hepatitis C, about 15 to 25 per cent of infected persons spontaneously clear the virus within six months of infection without any treatment. It persists for life in 70-90 per cent of patients infected with the virus – these patients become carriers. The incubation period for acute Hepatitis C averages 6 to 10 weeks.
Among patients with chronic infection, at least 20 per cent develop cirrhosis — or hardening — of the liver within 20 years. Some develop liver cancer.
The Hepatitis C virus is largely transmitted by blood and blood products. The incubation period is between two weeks and six months. Infections may be acquired, among others, via intravenous drug abuse, tattooing and accidental needle injury.
Generally, symptoms only appear once advanced liver damage has occurred. These are usually the signs and symptoms consistent with liver cirrhosis. These include ascites (swelling of the abdomen with fluid), jaundice, vomiting blood or passing out blood in the stools.
Treatment is aimed at eradicating the virus and to prevent or delay its complications. Doctors typically describe alpha interferon, a drug which prevents tumour cells or viruses from growing inside the body. Ribavarin, an oral anti-viral agent, can also be used in combination with alpha interferon. Usually, patients who receive treatment are those with raised liver enzymes and a liver biopsy indicating active inflammation.
RATE OF INFECTION
The prevalence rate of Hepatitis C in the general population of Singapore is about 0.3 per cent. Globally, about 130 to 150 million people have chronic Hepatitis C infection.
There is currently no vaccine for Hepatitis C. The virus comes in many forms and constantly mutates.