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Hep C and Intravenous Drug Use

Hepatitis is a condition that causes the liver to be inflamed. It occurs as a result of various toxins - such as alcohol and drugs - as well as autoimmune conditions and pathogens like parasites, bacteria, and viruses.

Viruses that are labeled A through to E cause viral hepatitis However, the most common viral hepatitis infections that are transmitted through the risky behaviors of intravenous drug use include HBC (or hepatitis B) and HCV (also known as hepatitis C).

Understanding Hepatitis C

If you leave your hepatitis untreated, it can cause liver cirrhosis. This condition causes the progressive malfunctioning and deterioration of the liver. However, it can also cause hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of cancer of the liver. Today, research studies claim that hepatitis C is linked to 50 percent of all liver infections being reported across the globe.

Since 2012, the United States has seen hepatitis C claim more lives than 60 of all the other infectious conditions that you might acquire. While trying to fight this condition in the country, the Department of Health and Human Services came up with the National Hepatitis Action Plan for 2017 through to 2020. This plan has strategies that are designed to meet the goals listed below:

  • Coordinate, report, and monitor the implementation of various viral hepatitis prevention and treatment activities
  • Improve the health and wellness of people who are struggling with viral hepatitis
  • Prevent new infections of viral hepatitis
  • Reduce all viral health disparities (that is, the differences among people who are infected hepatitis C based on their gender, income, race, and ethnicity, among other factors)
  • Reduce the total number of deaths linked to hepatitis C

Hepatitis C and Intravenous Drug Use

Abusing alcohol and drugs - among many other intoxicating substances can increase your risk of contracting hepatitis C. in particular, if you abuse these substances, you might find yourself engaging in dangerous sexual behavior, which will inadvertently increase your risk of getting this condition.

However, intravenous drug use is among the highest risk factors for contracting this condition. This is because you might share drug preparation equipment and needles with people who have hepatitis C. by so doing, you will effectively expose yourself to their bodily fluids and end up developing this condition.

Drug use can also impair your judgment. This means that if you abuse intoxicating substances, you might engage in increasingly dangerous and unsafe behavior and increase your risk of getting hepatitis C.

A recent study reported that everyone who takes drugs intravenous and gets hepatitis C will most likely end up infecting about 20 other intravenous drug users. This rapid transmission of the condition can occur as early as 3 years after you get infected.

At the same time, ongoing alcohol and drug use can damage your liver directly. In the process, it could increase your risk of suffering from chronic liver cancer and disease especially if you have already contracted hepatitis C.

This goes to show the importance of early detection, management, and treatment of this condition among drug users. Only through these services can you continue protecting your health and wellness, as well as that of your community.

Symptoms of Hepatitis C

While studying the relationship between hep C and intravenous drug use, you should always watch out for the following signs and symptoms of a hepatitis C infection:

  • Abdominal tenderness close to your liver
  • Frequent fevers
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea
  • Poor appetite
  • Weakness

In case you have contracted hepatitis C and you continue abusing drugs, your condition might worsen considerably. The best solution would be to get treatment for this disease. In particular, you might benefit from ribavirin and interferon. These antiviral medications will help control the speed at which the disease spreads to the rest of your body.

However, if you choose to continue abusing drugs like alcohol and heroin, you will not be able to take these antiviral medications. This is because most intoxicating substances will cancel out the beneficial effects of your medications.

That said, you should also remember that hepatitis C is a viral that could potentially threaten your life by damaging the functioning of your live. Since the liver is useful in filtering toxins from the body, continued substance abuse when you are infected will put your health and wellness at serious risk.

Hepatitis C is like many other strains of viruses in the sense that it can linger in your body in its dormant state for many years before it starts affecting the functioning of your liver. If you have ever used syringe injections and discover that you have been developing flu-like symptoms in the recent past - more frequently than you used to - it is essential that you get tested to ensure that you have not contracted hep C.

Health Challenges

While trying to understand the relationship between hep C and intravenous drug use, you should also keep in mind that this condition might give rise to many other health problems at the same time - including but not limited to HIV/AIDS and mental health disorders.

As a direct result, you might require ongoing care and management from many healthcare providers to manage all the conditions that you have been struggling with over and above your substance use disorder and the hepatitis C you contracted.

In the clinical context, all these diseases are collectively known as co-occurring disorders. Even so, you should remember that you still need treatment and rehabilitation services to be able to overcome your substance abuse and addiction. This is because research shows that if you have hepatitis C and you receive medication assisted treatment (especially if you have been diagnosed with an opioid use disorder), you might be able to receive safe treatment using antiviral medications.

NIDA - the National Institute of Drug Abuse - has also reported that it is essential that care for hepatitis C is improved. To this end, this organization has been examining various coordinated treatment models that use case managers to ensure that hep C specialty care is integrated with mental health services, treatment for addiction, and primary care. Through this integration, you can effectively ensure that all the health care needs that you have are effectively addressed.

HRSA - the Health Resources and Services Administration - has also created a Ryan White HIV and AIDS program that seeks to develop free online curriculum programs about hepatitis C and HIV for healthcare staff and medical service providers. Through this program, HRSA has been increasing knowledge about the relationship between hep C and intravenous drug use, as well as about the rates of co-infection especially among people of color within the United States.

Hepatitis C Treatment

Today, there are many medications that you can use to treat chronic infections of hepatitis C. If you have contracted HCV, you might benefit from antiviral medications, while new treatments are getting approved every year.

Most of these antiviral treatments for hepatitis C are also effective. In fact, studies have shown that they can cure over 90 percent of the people who use them in as little as 2 to 3 months. These treatments are also effective at reducing the death toll caused by hep C and intravenous drug use that can cause you to develop this medical condition.

However, just because you have contracted hepatitis C does not necessarily mean that you are going to need or benefit from a treatment and care regimen. According to researchers working for NIDA, there are genetic formations that could cause HCV to clear from the system spontaneously. Due to these genes, if you are not able to clear hepatitis C from your system on your own, you could respond favorably from the medications used in the treatment of this condition.

Today, addiction treatment programs will use this information to determine whether you will benefit from ongoing treatment and rehabilitation for your hepatitis C, or not. However, it is essential that more studies are done although this is an important first step towards personalizing medication regimens while trying to deal with HCV.

Diagnosis for Hepatitis C

In the past few years, the total number of infections involving HCV have been declining. Even so, research has pointed out that many people are still living with chronic infections of this condition. These studies have also reported that there has been a rise in the total number of deaths linked to untreated hepatitis C infections, especially when these diseases are chronic in nature.

The main reason given for this trend is that most of the people who take drugs - whether intravenously or otherwise - do not know that they have contracted the condition until it starts damaging their liver. This is why you should get screened for viral hepatitis C as soon as possible.

In particular, if you have a history of substance abuse - intravenous drug use, for instance - it is imperative that you get screened as soon as possible. This is because your abuse of these drugs could increase your risk of contracting hepatitis C. It might also be in your best interests to discuss your substance use with your primary healthcare provider.

When you go for initial screen for hepatitis C, you will be given antibody tests that will show whether or not you have been exposed to this virus. However, the fact that you are exposed does not necessarily mean that you have been infected.

If you receive a positive antibody test, you should follow it up with a test to measure the total amount of the hepatitis C virus in your bloodstream. In case this follow-up test delivers a positive result, you will have to seek advice from physicians who are specialized in the treatment of viral hepatitis C.

Screening for this infection is critical particularly because it can link you - in case you have tested positive - to the health care and wellness services that you need. It is for this reason that NIDA has been studying new antibody tests for hepatitis C and many drug addiction treatment and rehabilitation facilities use these tests.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (or the CDC), you should go for testing for hepatitis C when you are undergoing routine medical care. This is particularly true if you take drugs via injection, primarily because of the link between hep C and intravenous drug use.

Dealing with Viral Hepatitis

But what should you do once you discover that you have contracted hepatitis C as a result of taking drugs via injection or for any other reason. Once your doctor informs you that you have contracted this disease, the first thing you need to do is learn as much as you can about the virus and the condition that you are currently struggling with.

You can, for instance, read various resources from the government. By so doing, you will receive the most current scientific information about hepatitis C - and learn how to deal with this condition.

You should also change your life and adopt healthier habits. This could help you prevent your condition from becoming more serious than it already is. You may, for instance, have to enroll for addiction treatment and rehabilitation services to help you overcome your substance use disorder and manage the hepatitis C.

It is also recommended that you avoid all drugs and alcoholic beverages. This is because these substances are detrimental to the health and wellness of your liver, and could exacerbate your hep C.

Last but not least, you should eat a healthy diet, exercise on a regular basis, and get plenty of sleep and rest. Finally, ensure that you protect others from getting infected by giving up all risky behaviors like donating blood, sharing drugs, and engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse.

Considerations for Treatment

The likelihood that your hepatitis C infection will become severe will depend on various risk factors that you might have. These risk factors include but are not always limited to the following:

  • Ongoing drug use
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Deficiencies of the immune system

Treatment for your hepatitis C infection will involve various antiviral medications that are provided to control the virus and ensure that it does not spread through to your liver - where it can cause irreparable damage and harm.

As far as possible, you should get treatment as soon as you possibly can after you discover that you have contracted hepatitis C. The best format of treatment will address both hep C and intravenous drug use so that you check out of the rehabilitation facility fully recovered from both conditions.

References:

https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/liver-disease/viral-hepatitis/what-is-viral-hepatitis

https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/abc/index.htm

https://www.hhs.gov/hepatitis/viral-hepatitis-action-plan/index.html

https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/775507-overview

https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/viral-hepatitis

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK7864/

https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/viral-hepatitis-very-real-consequence-substance-use

https://bphc.hrsa.gov/qualityimprovement/clinicalquality/hepatitis/index.html

https://www.healthline.com/health/hepatitis

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pMC5887278/

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/145869.php

https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hbv/index.htm

http://www.worldhepatitisalliance.org/what-viral-hepatitis-0

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