Hepatitis C in Myanmar is caused by the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV), and is a serious, infectious disease. Hepatitis refers to any kind of inflammation in the liver caused by either an infectious or non-infectious condition. Infection caused by the hepatitis C virus is serious and causes liver damage.
It is a contagious disease and spreads via human transmission (person to person contact), through contact with blood and body fluids of infected persons via infected needles, lack of proper sterilization of medical equipment, and transfusion of unchecked, infected blood.
Unfortunately, a person who has contacted Hepatitis C shows no immediate symptoms, and infected individuals get diagnosed only when there is liver damage. There is no known vaccination for Hepatitis C. However, it can be cured with antiviral drugs.
Hepatitis C is classified as Acute Hepatitis C (referring to new infections) and chronic Hepatitis C (where the infection in the liver lasts longer than six months). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 130 to 150 million individuals worldwide are infected with hepatitis C, with about 500,000 fatalities recorded every year. Hepatitis C is found worldwide with concentrations in Africa, central and East Asia.
In Myanmar, about 11.6 percent of the population is infected with Hepatitis C. The HCV virus outbreaks in Myanmar have been widespread from time to time.
The hepatitis C virus shows no immediate symptoms. However, an infected individual will start showing the following symptoms in about 1 to 3 months after infection –
- Fatigue, Nausea and loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Dark coloured urine and clay-like stools
- Muscle and joint pain
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
For chronic HCV infections the symptoms include
- Easy bruising and bleeding
- Itchy skin and rashes
- Swelling of the legs
- Weight loss
- Accumulation of fluid in the abdomen
- Drowsiness, confusion, and slurring of speech
When should I see a doctor?
Any individual who experiences any of the aforementioned symptoms should consult a doctor. One should undergo tests that could determine HCV infection. If you know you have been exposed to the virus, a preventive treatment could reduce the risks of further infection and spread of HCV.
Ideally a medical practitioner will conduct certain test like blood tests, collect testing samples of the liver to determine extent of damage, and collate medical history of the person infected.
Treatment of Hepatitis C in Myanmar
There is no vaccination for hepatitis C, however, the infection is treated with antiviral medication. New advancements in medication have made treatments easier, while reducing side effects of existing medication and made treatment period shorter for those infected with HCV.
Patients with acute Hepatitis C have an excellent chance of responding to 6 months of therapy with interferon (IFN). However, spontaneous resolution is common, so usually, no definitive timing of therapy initiation is recommended.
For chronic cases if HCV, depending upon the extent of damage, a doctor could prescribe liver transplant.
The prognosis for HCV depends upon the extent of infection. Usually, for Acute HCV cases, the infection clears out on its own without any requirement of treatment in about 15 to 45 percent of the cases within 6 months.
For chronic HCV cases, the prognosis is very good with timely detection and treatment. However, about 15 to 30 percent of chronic cases develop liver cirrhosis, failure and cancer and require liver transplants.
One can prevent infection of HCV with the following precautions –
- Avoid close contact with persons known to be infected with HCV.
- Avoid use of illicit drugs, requiring usage of needles.
- Exercise caution while getting body piercings and tattoos. Ensure needles and equipment used is sterile and safe.
- Practice safe sex.