Hepatitis C is surrounded by a ton of misinformation and negative public opinion. The misconceptions about the virus make it even more challenging for people to seek treatment that could save their lives.
To sort out the truth from the fiction, let’s go over some of the facts you should know about hepatitis C.
Fact #1: You can live a long, healthy life with hepatitis C
One of the biggest fears of anyone newly diagnosed is their outlook. The hepatitis C virus was first discovered in the late 1980s, and since then there have been significant treatment advances.
Today, about 25 percent of people are able to clear acute hepatitis C infection from their bodies without treatment. Over 90 percent of people living with chronic hepatitis C in the United States can be cured.
Plus, many new treatment options come in pill form, making them much less painful and invasive than older treatments.
Fact #2: There’s more than one way you can be exposed to the virus
A common misconception is that only people who use drugs can get hepatitis C. While some people who’ve had a history of using intravenous drugs have been diagnosed with hepatitis C, there are many other ways you can be exposed to the virus.
For instance, baby boomers are considered the population most at risk for hepatitis C simply because they were born before accurate blood screening protocols were mandated. This means anyone born between 1945 to 1965 should be tested for this virus.
Other groups at increased risk for hepatitis C include people who have had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992, people on hemodialysis for their kidneys, and people living with HIV.
Fact #3: The chances of getting cancer or needing a transplant are low
Many people believe that liver cancer or a liver transplant are inevitabilities with hepatitis C, but this isn’t true. For every 100 people who receive a hepatitis C diagnosis and don’t receive treatment, 5 to 20 people will develop cirrhosis. Only a fraction of those will need to consider transplant options.
Furthermore, today’s antiviral drugs can reduce the possibility of developing liver cancer or cirrhosis.
Fact #4: You can still spread the virus if you don’t have symptoms
Up to 80 percent of people with acute hepatitis C infection don’t develop any symptoms. Chronic hepatitis C infection does not cause symptoms until cirrhosis develops. This means that precautions should be taken regardless of how you feel physically.
Although there’s a relatively small chance of spreading the virus sexually, it’s best to always practice safe sex measures. Also, though the risk of transmission from razors or toothbrushes is very low, avoid sharing either of these grooming tools.
Fact #5: Hepatitis C is almost entirely transmitted through blood
Hepatitis C isn’t airborne, and you can’t get it from a mosquito bite. You also can’t contract or transmit hepatitis C by coughing, sneezing, sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses, kissing, breastfeeding, or being close to someone in the same room.
Having said that, people can become infected with hepatitis C by getting a tattoo or body piercing in an unregulated setting, using a contaminated syringe, or being pricked by an unsanitary needle in healthcare settings. Babies may also be born with hepatitis C if their mothers have the virus.
Fact #6: Not everyone with hepatitis C will also have the HIV virus
It’s much more likely to have both HIV and hepatitis C if you use injectable drugs. Between 50 to 90 percent of people who have HIV and use injectable drugs also have hepatitis C. In contrast, only 25 percent of people living with HIV have hepatitis C.
Fact #7: If your hepatitis C viral load is high, that doesn’t mean that your liver is ruined
There’s no correlation between your hepatitis C viral load and the progression of the virus. In fact, the only reason a doctor takes stock of your specific viral load is to diagnose you, monitor progress you have with your medications, and ensure the virus is undetectable when treatments end.
Fact #8: There’s no vaccine for hepatitis C
Unlike for hepatitis A and hepatitis B, there’s currently no vaccination against hepatitis C. However, researchers are trying to develop one.
If you’re diagnosed with hepatitis C infection or suspect you might have come into contact with the virus, the best thing to do is arm yourself with information. Your doctor is there to answer any questions you might have.
Also, consider reading more about hepatitis C from reputable sources. Knowledge, after all, is power, and it might just help you achieve the calmness of mind you deserve.