Hepatitis C: Fact vs. Fiction
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 3 million people in the U.S. have hepatitis C (hep C), a viral infection that targets the liver. But many do not know they have it. People born between 1945 and 1965, have the highest risk of having hepatitis C and spreading it to others.
Fiction: You’ll know right away if you have hep C
Fact: Only a small percentage of people with hep C feel sick soon after being infected. Many people who are infected may not have symptoms, and can live for years without knowing they have the virus. Hepatitis C can cause damage to the liver over time, leading to scarring (cirrhosis) or liver cancer.
Fiction: There’s no effective treatment for hep C
Fact: There are several different medications available for people who have hep C. Your health care provider can help you decide which is right for you. The treatment is as easy as taking a pill once a day, usually for 12 weeks. Generally, there are no side effects, and most people who take the medications are cured.
Fiction: There is a vaccine for hep C
Fact: While there are vaccines for hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, that is why it is important to take steps to protect yourself:
- Get tattoos and piercings from a licensed shop with sterile equipment
- Do not share personal items that may have infected blood on them, such as shaving razors or toothbrushes
- Use new, clean needles and equipment every time when injecting drugs
Fiction: Hep C can be spread through casual contact
Fact: Hepatitis C is spread when the blood from an infected person makes contact with the blood of an uninfected person. It is not airborne, and cannot be spread through hugging, kissing, coughing or sneezing, or by sharing food or eating utensils.
Fiction: Hep C will go away on its own
Fact: Only 15 to 25 percent of people infected with hepatitis C are able to clear the virus from their bodies without treatment. Without treatment, the majority of people with hepatitis C will develop serious health problems.
Fiction: Only drug users can get hep C
Fact: Anyone can develop hep C, but baby boomers, or people born between 1945 and 1965, are five times more likely to have the infection. There are a number of reasons why experts think this generation has higher rates of hep C, such as the increase in drug use from the 1960s to the 1980s and the absence of a universal screening process for blood donations until 1992. The groups with the biggest risk include:
- People born from 1945 to 1965 (baby boomers)
- People who inject drugs or who have injected drugs in the past, even if once or many years ago
- Recipients of clotting factor concentrates before 1987 (for diseases such as hemophilia)
- People who received blood transfusions or organ transplants before July 1992
- Long-term kidney dialysis patients
- HIV-infected persons
- Children born to infected mothers
If you are included in any of these groups, get tested for hep C. Neighborcare Health can help.