Learning you have hepatitis C can be unsettling. There’s still a cultural stigma attached to the disease, despite research showing that almost anyone can have contracted it.

If you’re living with hepatitis C, it can be a challenge to educate yourself on the condition and your treatment options.

When exploring treatment options, keep in mind there’s a lot of misleading information out there. Use this guide to help you sort the facts from the myths regarding hepatitis C.

Myth: If I have hepatitis C, I must have done something to deserve it

Fact: No one deserves hepatitis C, or any other disease for that matter. Don’t allow yourself to fall prey to that notion, even if you fear others may think it.

Advancing research about the transmission and control of hep C has had a positive influence on the public opinion of the condition. Although shrinking, there is a still-present stigma attached, however.

Until the 1990s, it was believed that both HIV and hep C mostly affected sex workers and men who have sex with men, two populations that have often been cast in a negative light. We now know that almost anyone can contract the virus, regardless of gender, orientation, or profession. The American Liver Foundation offers a helpful list of risk factors.

Myth: If I become pregnant, I will pass the virus to my baby

Fact: Not necessarily. According to the Canadian Pediatric Society, this only happens 5 percent of the time. Whether or not transmission occurs may depend on the presence of high levels of hepatitis C (HCV) in the mother’s blood. Mothers who also have hepatitis B (HBV) or HIV are more likely to transmit HCV to their babies.

Men with HCV infection may be able to transmit virus through their semen, though this isn’t certain.

If you and your partner are thinking of conceiving, work with your doctor to monitor your HCV levels and explore treatment options prior to a pregnancy.

Myth: My case isn’t that serious, so I don’t need treatment

Fact: In the past, doctors were careful about treating people for hepatitis C because a combination of interferon-based therapies and ribavirin were the only known treatments. For many people, hepatitis C takes 10 to 20 years (or more) to manifest as full-blown cancer or cirrhosis of the liver. Therefore, doctors would often wait until there was evidence of major disease progression before beginning treatment.

With a success rate of only 50 percent, a prohibitively high cost, and the potential of permanent damage from then-available drugs, it’s easy to see why many people weren’t offered treatment.

Today, according to the American Liver Foundation, low-level cases are often treated the same as the flu. But when needed, a new class of direct-acting antiviral drugs that target the virus are used. The therapy time is much shorter (8 to 12 weeks, compared to up to 48 weeks) and the side effects much less severe. Most notable, however, is these drugs have a success rate of greater than 90 percent.

Myth: I’ve never shared needles, so I must have contracted hepatitis C from a sexual partner

Fact: Hepatitis C is a blood-borne disease only transmitted through blood-to-blood contact. The most common ways are needle sharing and specific sexual behaviors (such as anal sex). Other means of transmission include:

  • tattoos and body piercings with unsterilized needles
  • sharing personal items like razors or toothbrushes
  • being exposed to blood as a health worker

The American Liver Foundation offers a helpful resource for understanding who is at risk.

The takeaway

Hepatitis C affects over 3.5 million Americans, many of whom aren’t even aware they have it. Educate yourself about the condition and how to treat it. Separate the facts from the myths, and feel empowered to talk to your doctor.