Hepatitis C is a contagious viral infection which is transmitted by blood and blood products, and which can seriously damage the liver – causing liver disease, cirrhosis and cancer of the liver. Hepatitus C is an exceptionally difficult infection to identify, as it attacks the liver slowly over a period of many years – occasionally exhibiting flulike characteristics – until the more serious symptoms manifest and the infection is diagnosed.
Currently, Hepatitis C is most commonly transmitted by the sharing of contaminated needles between intravenous drug users but, until blood screening was introduced in Ireland in 1991, it was possible to contract the Hepatitis C virus through contaminated blood used in health service blood transfusions, haemodialysis and by being the recipient of an organ transplant from an infected person. Because of the length of time Hepatitis C may take to manifest fully, even if you received a blood transfusion twenty years ago, you may not be aware you carry the disease today.
Even more alarming is the possibility that Hepatitis C can be passed on from mother to foetus in pregnancy, and that the child can grow up carrying the disease undetected and pass it on to later generations of the family. Hepatitis C can be transmitted without knowledge through using an infected person´s razor or nail clippers and also through sexual activity – although transmission of the diseases is extremely rare amongst monogamous couples.
Hepatitis C and Anti-D Immunoglobulin
Anti-D immunoglobulin is an inhibitor, administered to pregnant women with a rhesus negative blood type prior to childbirth, to prevent the production of antibodies that would destroy the foetus´s red blood cells. Between May 1977 and July 1979, and again between March 1991 and February 1994, over twenty thousand vials of infectious or potentially infectious Anti-D were manufactured and issued from a plasma pool which was infected with Hepatitis C.
Although the Blood Transfusion Service Board was found negligent and a compensation tribunal established, the renamed Irish Blood Transfusion Service has not been able to locate all the women who were potentially infected with the Hepatitis C virus. Inasmuch as it is suggested that some of the victims are waiting for the Hepatitis C virus to manifest before coming forward to the compensation tribunal, there are many more women living in ignorance that they are carrying a potentially fatal virus.
Symptoms of Hepatitis C
Most people who contract Hepatitis C will not be aware of it for many years. A small minority of people will develop symptoms typically one to three months after contracting the virus which will manifest in the forms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite and fatigue. Prolonged nausea and vomiting will lead to dehydration, which in turn will cause headaches, a difficulty in focussing and the inability to urinate.
The first real clue that you may have contracted the Hepatitis C virus is when you experience a pain on the right side of your abdomen, just below the rib cage. This is where your liver is located, and the pain you are experiencing has resulted from the healthy liver being replaced by fibrous tissue, which then proceeds to form into a crust. As this happens, the liver gradually begins to fail and lose its ability to carry out its normal functions.
The Hepatitis C virus will then begin to dominate the liver, evident by jaundice, dark coloured urine and clay coloured stools. A further loss of appetite will occur, resulting in weight and muscle loss, haematemesis (vomiting blood), extreme lethargy and hallucinations as the condition of the liver deteriorates. At this point, the only option to prevent death is a liver transplant – this is why you should visit a doctor once you believe you may be suffering from symptoms of Hepatitis C.
Treatment for Hepatitis C
If diagnosed before reaching the most chronic stages, Hepatitis C can be managed and even cured with a combination of Interferon and Ribavirin. The treatment, however, takes up to 48 weeks depending on the strain of Hepatitis C, and you will not know if it has been completely successful for a further six months after your treatment has been completed.
The treatment for Hepatitis C infection is invasive, with blood samples having to be taken every few weeks for testing. Often the combination of drugs leaves the patient feeling worse than the actual symptoms of the virus itself. Hepatitis C drugs can cause anaemia, cardiovascular problems and psychiatric issues which can lead to suicidal tendencies – the latter being exaggerated by the psychological stress experienced by the patient.
Alternative natural therapies are being studied to determine if herbs and natural extracts which have traditionally been promoted as good for the liver – e.g. liquorice and ginseng – can boost the body’s ability to fight the infection. Other natural remedies may also be taken as complementary medicine to ease the side effects of the Hepatitis C treatments, amongst them ginger (to reduce nausea) and St John´s wort (to relieve depression) – although these should only be taken once you have consulted a physician.
Misdiagnosis of Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C affects the liver in a very similar way to alcohol abuse, where the alcohol poisons the liver. As the cells die, they form a scar tissue around the veins of the liver. Although blood testing will determine that the cirrhosis of the liver is caused by the Hepatitis C infection, if a blood sample is tested for the presence of alcohol rather than the Hepatitis C virus, the true cause of the liver disease can be overlooked and a misdiagnosis made of your ailment.
Claiming Compensation for Hepatitis C
If you have contracted Hepatitis C directly or indirectly from a blood transfusion, organ transplant or infected immunoglobulin, where the State is responsible for your injuries, you are entitled to claim Hepititus C compensation from the Health and Safety Executive. Similarly, if you are now aware that you have Hepatitis C and were previously misdiagnosed, when timely medical intervention could have prevented a long term illness, you can claim for medical negligence against the practice, medical centre or health authority that employs your physician.
Claiming compensation for Hepatitis C may be a protracted process, as claims have to be filed in court and do not follow the same procedures as when claiming for personal injury compensation – i.e. the Injuries Board Ireland is not involved. Furthermore, as many of the records involving blood transfusions pre-1991 and the administration of Anti-D immunoglobulin are unavailable or incomplete, it may take a considerable period of time to match your infected blood batch with the date and place where you may have been infected.
Therefore, it is in your best interests to speak with a solicitor at the earliest possible opportunity. A solicitor will have the latest information regarding awards of compensation available to recipients of blood products infected with Hepatitis C and be able to offer advice on the best procedures to follow to ensure that you receive a fair and adequate award of compensation – not only for the physical pain you will have suffered, but also for any psychological trauma you have experienced and deterioration in your quality of life.
Special Disclaimer: Seek Medical Advice
This article should not be taken as medical advice – you should always see a doctor as soon as possible. The information in this article is only to provide a broad understanding of the topic and is not in any way complete. Due to the rapidly changing nature of medical research regarding hepatitus C symptoms and treatment, the Legal Advice Ireland can not be held responsible for the reliability, accuracy, timeliness, usefulness, and completeness of the content. You should never ignore medical advice from a doctor. You should never self-manage any health problems. You should always see a doctor as soon as possible if you have any hepatitus C symptoms.