If a loved one has received a hepatitis C diagnosis, you may have some questions. And if you’ll be helping care for them, there are some things you should know beforehand.

Continue reading to learn more about the hepatitis C virus (HCV) and tips for how to be a good caregiver.

Hepatitis C is usually transmitted when the blood of someone with the virus enters the body of someone who doesn’t have the virus.

Before 1992, hepatitis C was unintentionally transmitted via blood transfusions and organ transplants performed with infected blood. Since then, health officials screen the blood supply for the virus. Sharing needles is another way the virus is transmitted.

Hepatitis C isn’t transmitted by:

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

Because hepatitis C is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact, it’s rare for a person with the virus to transmit it 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:

  • Don’t share razors, toothbrushes, or other items 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 1 part household bleach to 10 parts water.

Having a sexual relationship with someone who has hepatitis C can also put you at risk of contracting it. However, the chance of the virus spreading this way is rare, and more research on this is still needed.

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

Many treatment regimens for hepatitis C contain a combination of medications. Some of these medications may 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. They’ll go away after treatment stops.

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 them to speak with their doctor about feelings of depression or anxiety.
  • Encourage them to attend a hepatitis C support group if there are any in your area.
  • Go for a walk, go to the movies, or do other activities that they enjoy.
  • Sit and watch TV, listen to the radio, or listen to an audiobook that interests both of you.
  • Don’t expect them to always feel all right, and remember that’s OK.
  • Report any remarks of suicide to their doctor immediately.

It may sometimes be overwhelming to care for someone with hepatitis C. You may need to drive them to doctor appointments. Or you may need to help with household chores, such as cleaning, mowing the lawn, or preparing meals. You may need to provide emotional support, too.

This can be challenging, especially when you must juggle your own responsibilities.

You may feel stressed, angry, or depressed. You may feel isolated, even scared when caring 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 you and the person you’re caring for.

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

  • Learn and use stress-reducing techniques, such as meditation, yoga, 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 for 10 minutes.
  • Seek and accept help from others.
  • Set attainable goals.
  • Set aside time for relaxing activities, such as reading a book or getting a massage.
  • Take time off.
  • Arrange for respite care if needed. Respite care services provide short-term breaks for caregivers.

Unlike a typical 9-to-5 job, the role of caregiver never stops. Taking care of yourself first is important for your own health and the health of your loved one with hepatitis C.