The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is one of a family of viruses that cause inflammation of the liver. The virus is primarily contracted through direct contact with the blood of an infected individual. The infection begins as acute, but most often progresses into a chronic form. Chronic hepatitis C can cause serious liver damage, scarring, and cirrhosis. Unlike hepatitis A and B, hepatitis C is not yet preventable by vaccine.
There is a great deal of stigma attached to hepatitis C because of the ways in which it’s most commonly contracted. People also tend to misunderstand how it spreads, and may be wary of touching or being near an infected person. Family members may be overly (and obviously) careful to keep forks, hairbrushes, and drinking glasses separate. This can be mentally devastating for patients, leading to isolation, depression, and feelings of worthlessness.
The standard treatment for hepatitis C over the years has been with interferon, alone or in combination with one or more antiviral medications. The side effects of treatment are notoriously unpleasant, sometimes bad enough that patients choose to stop treatment. However, in December 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved sofosbuvir (Sovaldi) as the backbone of the first non-interferon based treatment combination for hepatitis C. Although it is expensive and its effectiveness varies depending on the infecting genotype of hepatitis C, it can provide more efficient, effective treatment and fewer side effects for many patients.
In addition, addicts who contracted the virus via contaminated needles may find themselves undergoing mandatory drug testing in order to receive treatment. This may unfortunately discourage them from receiving help. Being an active drug user does not mean a hepatitis C patient cannot undergo therapy for the condition, but doctors may be concerned about adherence to treatment.
Emotional support can be just as valuable as medical treatments. Being able to talk with others in similar situations, as well as those who have been through treatment and are now free of the virus, can make a huge difference in treatment outcomes. This kind of support can help patients see the value in pushing through the pain and the side effects, finishing treatment, and becoming healthy again.
Local support groups give patients a source of friends and confidants, and a place to share feelings, hopes, and fears. To find a local group near you, check out the following organizations:
- Hepatitis Central provides a list of groups by state.
- HCV Advocate maintains a database of local support groups.
- Hep C Connection has a list of groups, contact names, and phone numbers for hundreds of cities across the United States.
Online and telephone resources—such as helplines, forums, chat rooms, and email groups—are great for those who wish to stay anonymous, or who may not feel up to going out to attend meetings. Some good organizations include:
If alcohol or drug addiction is keeping you from getting the medical treatment you need for your hepatitis C infection, it’s essential that you seek out resources to help you overcome your addiction. Check out one or more of the following organizations to get started:
Even though you may feel alone in your diagnosis, you are in fact far from alone. It’s up to you to seek out treatment and make the effort to get well. Luckily you can get the support of others, in your hometown or across the country. This support can help keep you motivated and positive as you move toward your goal of being free of hepatitis C.