Dr. Fadi Abu-Bachar
Viral hepatitis C is a viral disease which harms the liver and is caused by the hepatitis C virus. It is one of the common chronic liver diseases, which can cause extremely severe symptoms in a large proportion of patients. Around 80% of those infected do not manage to overcome the virus and develop a chronic, lifelong infection. Some can also develop liver cirrhosis, when the healthy liver tissue is replaced with non-functioning scar tissue. This can cause hepatic failure, and for some patients primary liver cancer and secondary mortality from the severe complications of the disease.
Recent years have seen great progress in understanding the replication mechanism of the virus, and revolutionary treatments have been developed which can lead to total healing of the disease (over 95%). The drugs are safe and effective, and are used in the short term with few side effects.
The main problem is the diagnosis
“The main obstacle in this disease is the great difficulty in locating those who have it. The vast majority are unaware of the disease’s existence and it is not diagnosed by their doctors. Estimates are that there are around 100,000 carriers of the virus in Israel, who are unaware of the disease’s existence. This is a silent plague, due to the lack of awareness of its existence and the lack of symptoms until advanced stages of severe complications to the liver,” explains Director of the Liver Unit at Hillel Yaffe, Dr. Fadi Abu-Bachar.
At the Hillel Yaffe Medical Center, they have begun to locate carriers of the virus in recent years, and offer fast treatment for the disease. “We initiated a local program to raise awareness of the disease and recruit patients from high-risk groups to carry out tests to locate the virus, and refer them to the rapid treatment track. We managed to treat dozens of patients with hepatitis C and the results are excellent,” emphasizes Dr. Abu-Bachar.
The high-risk population includes people who have undergone invasive procedures without proper sterilization, especially those who were born in countries defined as endemic, such as the FSU. “The disease is diagnosed with a simple blood test. The more people who are tested, diagnosed, and treated, the more we can control the virus to the point of totally wiping out the disease,” notes Dr. Abu-Bachar.
To summarize, hepatitis C is a silent disease which can incubate in the body for many years, without symptoms, until severe complications develop, such as liver scarring and failure, and even primary liver cancer and death. Early diagnosis through a simple blood test saves lives and leads to a complete recovery.