Hepatitis is a contagious disease; it can be contracted in several different ways, so scientists have broken it down into 5 subtitles: Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. In active addiction, many people over look the health risks that come with abusing their drug of choice. People who use drugs are most prone to Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C so we’ll focus on those here.
Treatment can last several weeks to a lifetime depending on the person, the type of Hepatitis contracted and the degree of the infection. It’s much easier to avoid acquiring this infection by abstaining from risky practices.
What is Hepatitis and Why is it Bad for Me
Our liver is important to us. It’s one of the most important organs we have, right up there with the heart, and we can’t live without them. They’re there to break down old blood cells and also are a central part of the body’s metabolic processes. To put it simply, it cleans your blood and produces bile.
Hepatitis is a viral infection that causes swelling of the liver. A few weeks after exposure, you may begin to feel extreme fatigue, congestion, headache, stomach issues, fever, and even jaundice. Should you have a chronic form of the disease, symptoms may not show themselves for years. By then, the liver is often irreversibly damaged.
In about 25% of people, an infection caused by Hepatitis will go away on its own and there will be no complications. Because of the nature of its symptoms, or lack thereof, it could easily be missed. There’s no way of knowing if you have it with symptoms, or will carry it without symptoms, unless you’re tested. Prolonged delay of treatment often causes liver failure or liver cancer.
Substance Abuse & Hepatitis: How Do You Get This in Active Addiction
A person can contract Hepatitis B and/or C when they come into contact with the blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person. That doesn’t mean you should avoid using someone else’s fork, but sharing needles to inject or straws to snort drugs with an infected person puts you at a tremendous risk for becoming infected with the disease.
Many people may not realize they have it if they haven’t been tested. Symptoms often don’t begin for weeks after exposure to the disease. Sharing with people you think are “safe” is a highly risky gamble.
Hepatitis B is also contracted by unprotected sex. Whether you’re drunk or high or both, using protection in the heat of the moment could be easily overlooked. Those few minutes in your life could easily turn into months of treatment or worse; a damaged liver.
Breakthrough in Medicine: What Does Treatment Look Like
If your test for Hepatitis comes back positive, and you’re not one of the lucky 25% mentioned above, treatment may become necessary. Treatment consists of medicines in the form of pills and injections. The biggest downside to treatment is the side effects, some of which include depression, skin changes, and fatigue. The biggest advantage of treatment is that it does diminish the infection, which slows the damage being done to the liver.
The goal for treatment in the case of Hepatitis B is to stop the virus from cloning itself. A medicine in pill form, is usually prescribed by your doctor, and will need to be taken for 24 to 48 weeks. The patient must take the pill daily, even after symptoms begin to subside. Sometimes, the infection will grow immune to the specific pill prescribed by your doctor. In this case, there are other similar options your doctor may opt to utilize instead. Treatment for Hepatitis B has no significant side effects.
Treatment for Hepatitis C usually lasts about 24 weeks. With new research emerging and as medicines are improved, many doctors are now comfortable with a 12 week treatment plan. After treatment, it is undetectable in tests and does not return unless a new infection develops after a new exposure to the disease. There is no cure for Hepatitis C, but this outcome is just as advantageous as one.
There are a few concerns about availability of the medications. They are expensive and the licensing process is slow. Prevention is your best protection against this infection. While there is no vaccine available for Hepatitis C, a vaccine has been available for Hepatitis A and B since the early 1980s. About 95% of these vaccines have proven to be effective.
If you think you may have been exposed to Hepatitis, contact your doctor and request a test and/or a vaccine as soon as possible. This will allow you to receive the treatment you need to minimize liver damage and also help prevent more spread of the disease.