Correcting misunderstandings about hepatitis C

Hepatitis C, an infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), can damage the liver, an important organ responsible for filtering waste, aiding digestion and other important functions. The CDC estimates there were about 57,500 new cases of hepatitis C in 2019, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that about 2.4 million people have hepatitis C, although current numbers are likely much higher.

The CDC now recommends testing all adults for hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C is contagious and can cause a lifetime of challenges and complications, especially if not treated promptly. It is crucial to avoid risky behaviors that can lead to infection with hepatitis C virus and other dangerous viruses. However, many people have misconceptions about hepatitis C, how it is transmitted, and living with and treating the infection.

To better understand hepatitis C and help prevent future infections, here are nine common misconceptions about the virus and the facts behind each.

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Nine misconceptions about hepatitis C

Misunderstanding 1: Hepatitis C is not spread through sexual intercourse.

Reality: Although hepatitis C virus infection during sexual intercourse is uncommon, it is still possible. Although hepatitis C virus is not typically spread through vaginal secretions or semen in concentrations sufficient to cause infection, sexual partners may be exposed to virus-infected blood through tissue tears or menstrual blood. Men living with HIV who have sex with men also increase their risk of contracting the hepatitis C virus through sexual contact.

Misunderstanding 2: Blood transfusions put you at risk for hepatitis C virus infection.

Reality: There is a risk of hepatitis C infection for people who received blood or blood products before 1992. Today, however, all blood and blood products are screened for HIV, HCV and other blood-borne diseases to ensure you are safe to receive a transfusion.

Misunderstanding 3: Hepatitis C is only a short-lived infection.

Fact: HCV can cause both short-term (acute) and long-term (chronic) infections.

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Acute infection occurs within the first six months of HCV infection. Symptoms include fever, weakness, jaundice (yellowing of the skin, whites of the eyes, and mucous membranes), nausea and vomiting, and abdominal discomfort. Symptoms usually resolve on their own and then turn into a chronic infection. More than half of people with acute hepatitis C virus infection will develop chronic hepatitis C.

If left untreated, chronic hepatitis C can last a lifetime. It can damage the liver by causing cirrhosis (scarring of liver tissue) and cirrhosis-related complications (such as vomiting blood and bloating, fluid accumulation). Chronic hepatitis C has a high risk of causing liver cancer and liver failure.

Misunderstanding 4: Treatment of hepatitis C can prevent all future infections.

Reality: Successful treatment for hepatitis C does not make people immune to the virus. Even if a person is cured of hepatitis C, they can still be reinfected with the virus if they use intravenous drugs, share needles, or have unprotected sex.

Misunderstanding 5: If hepatitis C doesn’t bother you, no treatment is needed.

Fact: Hepatitis C is a chronic disease that can take many years to develop symptoms that affect the liver. The virus causes inflammation of liver tissue and structural changes, ranging from simple fat deposition to severe cirrhosis. People with untreated hepatitis C are also at risk of developing liver cancer.

Misunderstanding 6: You should not breastfeed if you have hepatitis C.

Fact: New mothers with hepatitis C can breastfeed if their nipple tissue is intact and the skin is not broken. If the nipples begin to crack or other injuries occur, it is recommended to avoid breastfeeding at this time.

Misunderstanding 7: There is a vaccine for all hepatitis infections.

Reality: While there are vaccines to prevent hepatitis A and hepatitis B, there is currently no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. The only way people can reduce their risk of contracting hepatitis C is to avoid intravenous drug abuse and needle sharing, and to use barrier methods for sexual intercourse.

Misunderstanding 8: Hepatitis C has no cure.

Reality: The good news is that there are medications to treat and effectively cure hepatitis C. However, once a person has hepatitis C, their risk of liver cancer remains. It is recommended to avoid any toxins or harmful substances that affect the liver, such as alcohol.

There is no misunderstanding. 9: Only people who have sex with multiple partners should get tested.

FACT: According to the CDC’s recently updated guidance, the public health agency “now recommends that all adults (18 years and older) and all pregnant women get a one-time hepatitis C test during every pregnancy.” The CDC continues to recommend that those with risk factors people, including people who inject drugs, are tested regularly. “

You should get tested for HCV if you:

Have ever injected drugs, even if it was just once or many years ago.

Abnormal liver tests or liver disease.

Received donated blood or organs before July 1992.

Received clotting factor concentrates before 1987.

Exposure to blood from someone with hepatitis C.

Although hepatitis C is a serious illness that can cause significant disruption to your life, it is treatable. HopeHealth provides specialized care for patients with hepatitis C and other infectious diseases. Our services include clinical care, case management, medication assistance, and community awareness and education. If you are interested in becoming a patient, please contact us at 843-667-9414 to schedule your first appointment.

dHarmeet Gill is an infectious disease physician at HopeHealth Medical Plaza in Florence. He received his medical degree from A N Magadh Medical College, Gaya, Bihar, India, and completed a fellowship at Palmetto Health USC, Colombia. Jill is board certified in Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases and has extensive experience managing rural health programs. He led the national polio eradication program and received state-level awards for effective management of India’s cholera epidemic.Gill is fluent in English, Hindi and Punjabi and is a member of the Infected American Disease Association and American Medical Association.

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