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Communicable Disease: Hepatitis C

Introduction

Different types of diseases have existed for as long as the history of mankind. The means by which these diseases are transmitted are as varied as their causative agents. Recent research findings in the United States, for instance, have identified some of the most lethal infectious diseases. HIV/AIDS tops the list of the deadliest communicable diseases in America (Webber, 2009). Other important infectious diseases include hepatitis, influenza, and tuberculosis.

These are diseases that rely on exchange of body fluid, contaminated objects or substances, close body contact or congested environment in order to be transmitted from an infected carrier to healthy individual. The research paper presents a general discussion of the Hepatitis C disease and the efforts that are in place to control it. Environmental factors related to the disease, the influence of lifestyles, socioeconomic status and disease management are described. It also explains the efforts being made by the public health department to reduce the threat of the disease in the society.

Background

Medical professionals are constantly conducting researches to investigate the various diseases that affect human beings with an aim of coming up with appropriate control and treatment approaches. Infectious diseases which are mostly caused by viruses have for a long time presented monumental challenges to health professionals (Riegelman, 2010). Hepatitis C is one of the most important communicable diseases caused by the Hepatitis C Virus, commonly abbreviated as HCV. According to recent study findings, it is the second deadliest infectious disease in the United States. This disease affects the liver.

The hepatitis C virus is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact between an infected person (carrier) and a health individual. Over 200 million people in the world have contracted the disease which has been by researchers as affected mankind alone. This has presented a significant challenge for researchers since they cannot carry out any meaningful investigations using animals, even primates like chimpanzees (Jirillo, 2008). The limited research into hepatitis C has paralyzed efforts to come up with a vaccine.

Symptoms

Hepatitis C is a symptomless disease and only few, if any, symptoms are manifest after the primary infection stages. However, the virus remains in the liver in a majority of those infected. Although the infection is normally asymptomatic, chronic infection can damage the liver causing what is known as fibrosis. At advanced levels of continual attack, hepatitis C can destroy the liver, a condition known as cirrhosis and occurs after a long period of time of infection (Jirillo, 2008). Complete damage of the liver may be experienced when cirrhosis attains critical stage. The ultimate effect of serious cirrhosis is liver cancer or deadly esophageal and gastric infection which causes abnormal enlargement.

The first six months after contracting the hepatitis C virus, an individual experiences the acute stage of the disease with no clinically detectable symptoms. During this stage, an individual looses appetite, feels tired, unusual pain, and influenza-like manifestations (Webber, 2009).

When infection with hepatitis C lasts for over six months, it becomes chronic. This stage is characterized by the rapid progression of liver damage and eventually cirrhosis within a span of about 20 years although the rate varies from one person to another (Jirillo, 2008). Symptoms at this stage include abnormal pain in the joints, tiredness, irregular sleep patterns, lack of appetite, general depression. Development of cirrhosis marks the beginning of serious manifestations associated with complete liver failure. Many health complications will be experienced due to liver dysfunction.

Contributory Factors

The progression of acute hepatitis C to chronic levels is influenced by a number of facts. Ageing has been associated with quick progression of the disease to cirrhosis. Research findings have revealed that the rate of progression in males is higher compared to that of their female counterparts (Riegelman, 2010). Moreover, the consumption of alcohol as well as the possession of a fatty liver has been associated with increased progression of the disease. Hepatitis C virus has been identified as a co-infection with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and hence facilitating rapid progression (Webber, 2009).

Transmission and Preventive Efforts

The disease is passed on through the mixing of blood of an infected person with that of a healthy individual. According to recent study findings, 9 in every 10 infection with hepatitis C virus in developed countries occurred through the reception of blood which was not screened or direct blood contact like in cases of accidents (Riegelman, 2010). Drug use by intravenous means is one of the most common ways of contracting HCV. Contaminated injection objects facilitate quick transmission of the various. This is the leading method of HCV infection among drug users in America. Studies reveal that the rate of infection is high among prison inmates (Jirillo, 2008).

Sexual exposure has also been known to constitute a significant proportion of the means through which HCV is transmitted especially in presence of wound-causing STDs. The use of unsterilized objects during ordinary treatment is the primary source of hepatitis C infections in most developing nations (Webber, 2009). Furthermore, transmission of the virus can be from an infected mother to the unborn child, particularly during the process of delivery. This is usually referred to as vertical transmission. It is important to note, however, that hepatitis C is not transmitted through ordinary body contact like kissing, hugging, or using eating and cooking utensils with an infected person.

Following the diversity in the means of contracting the HCV, public health departments have embarked on identifying the most appropriate ways of minimizing the rate of spreading hepatitis C disease. Seminars to educate the populace on safer means of injecting drugs have been arranged resulting in decreased infection (Webber, 2009). Ensuring adequate supply of new needles and syringes has gone a long way in reducing incidents of using unsterilized treatment objects.

The greatest challenge facing health departments is the absence of a vaccine for hepatitis C disease (Riegelman, 2010). Efforts are being made to develop a vaccine that will help in bringing this disease under control. The development of blood screening equipment has significantly reduced the chances of contracting hepatitis C through blood transfusion. Health departments have made it a requirement for the need to use highly screened blood in all healthcare centers.

Treatment

Due to the nature of hepatitis C disease, it is important that early treatment starts as soon as it is detected. Research has revealed that acute levels of the disease can fade away within a span of six months and may not demand a lot of treatment attention (Riegelman, 2010). Once the disease progresses to chronic stages, it is less likely that it will fade afterwards. This calls for comprehensive treatment measures so as to minimize their devastating consequences.

The treatment approach used depends on the nature (genotype) of the causative virus. The probability of successful treatment of hepatitis C depends on the stage at which it is detected. Acute hepatitis C can be treated within a short period with great success relative to chronic hepatitis C (Webber, 2009). Since the other types of hepatitis (A & B) have vaccines, individuals with HCV are encouraged to receive these vaccinations so as to minimize the damage of the liver.

Conclusion

The paper has described hepatitis C which one of America’s deadliest communicable diseases. It has presented a general discussion of the disease and the efforts that are in place to control it. Environmental factors related to the disease, the influence of lifestyles like drug abuse and criminal behavior, socioeconomic status and HCV management have been described. It has also explained the efforts being made by the public health department to reduce the threat of the disease in the society. Efforts to obtain a vaccine for HCV, therefore, should not stop if the quality of health in the community is to be enhanced.

References

Jirillo, E. (ed) (2008). Hepatitis C Virus: basic research to clinical application. Springer.

Riegelman, R. K. (2010). Public Health: healthy People-healthy population. Sudbury MA: Jones and Bartlett.

Webber, R. (2009). Global communicable diseases: epidemiology and control. CABI.