If a close friend or relative has been diagnosed with hepatitis C, it’s perfectly normal to have a lot of questions.

And while you may be quick to help care for your loved one, there are some things you should know beforehand. Continue reading to learn more about the virus and tips for how to be a good caregiver.

How Hepatitis C Spreads

Hepatitis C usually spreads when the blood of someone who is infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) enters through the skin of a person who is not infected.

Many people become infected with hepatitis C by sharing needles, or other tools, used to inject illegal drugs.

Before 1992, hepatitis C was also spread by blood transfusions and organ transplants. Since then, health officials have effectively screened the blood supply for the virus.

Hepatitis C is not spread by:

  • sharing eating utensils
  • hugging
  • kissing
  • holding hands
  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • breastfeeding
  • food or water

How to Protect Yourself

Because hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood contact, it’s rare for the disease to be transmitted from people with hepatitis C to family members or caregivers.

Still, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you may want to take certain precautions to protect yourself:

  • Do not share razors, toothbrushes, or other tools that may have been exposed to blood.
  • Wear gloves when cleaning up any blood spills, including dried blood. Any blood spills should be cleaned using a solution of one part household bleach to 10 parts water.

Having a sexual relationship with someone with hepatitis C can put yourself at risk. However, the chance of the disease spreading this way is rare, and more research still needs to be done.

What to Expect During Treatment

The course of treatment for HCV depends on the type of infection. There are six types of hepatitis C that are often referred to as genotypes.

Many treatment regimens for hepatitis C contain a combination of medicines. Some medicines for hepatitis C have severe side effects, including:

  • extreme fatigue
  • irritability
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • difficulty concentrating
  • insomnia
  • itching
  • rashes
  • upset stomach
  • headache
  • fever
  • body aches

The psychological side effects of treatment may be more difficult for friends and family to deal with than the physical ones. Remember, side effects are typically temporary and will go away after treatment stops.

How to Deal with Side Effects

As a caregiver, you can provide the support and care your loved one needs to manage different side effects. Here are some things you can do:

  • Tell the person to speak with a doctor about feelings of depression or anxiety.
  • Encourage the person to attend a hepatitis C support group if there are any available in your area.
  • Go for a walk, go to the movies, or do other activities that the person enjoys.
  • Sit and watch TV, listen to the radio, or listen to an audio book that might interest both of you.
  • Keep your expectations low. Don’t expect the person to “snap out of it.”
  • Report any remarks of suicide to the person’s doctor immediately.

Caring for Yourself

It can be easy to get overwhelmed while caring for someone with hepatitis C. You may need to help with household chores, such as cleaning, mowing the lawn, or preparing meals. You may need to drive them to doctor appointments or just provide emotional support.

None of this is easy, especially when you must juggle your own household and work responsibilities.

It’s normal to become stressed, angry, depressed, isolated, and even scared when caregiving for someone with hepatitis C.

The most important thing you can do as a caregiver is to take care of yourself. When you neglect your own emotional and physical needs, the strain takes a toll on both of you.

Here are some things you can and should do while acting as a caregiver:

  • Learn and use stress reducing techniques such as meditation, yoga, prayer, or tai chi.
  • Take care of your own healthcare needs.
  • Stick to a healthy diet and get enough sleep.
  • Exercise most days of the week, even if it’s only 10 minutes at a time.
  • Seek and accept help from others.
  • Make attainable goals.
  • Set aside time for relaxing activities, such as reading a good book or getting a massage.
  • Take time off (don’t feel guilty about it).
  • Arrange for respite care if needed. Respite care services provide short-term breaks for caregivers.

Unlike a typical 9-to-5 job, the role as a caregiver never stops. Taking care of yourself first is important for your own health and the health of your loved one with hepatitis C. Remember, any care or support you can give will be helpful.