It takes much more than breathing the same air and touching a person to contact hepatitis C. Even then, in 2014 alone, nearly 30,500 persons were suffering from the virus in the United States. Currently, those affected by chronic hepatitis C are estimated at about 3-4 million, and it is likely that around 75 to 85% of them will develop the chronic form of the infection.
These statistics tell a tale of a serious infection that is spreading at an alarming rate and should not be ignored. The best way to deal with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) is by preventing it from spreading further. To do so, you need to understand the disease.
Understanding Hepatitis C
Hepatitis infections are commonly caused due to drugs, toxins, other diseases, alcohol abuse, or viral and bacterial infections. There are three common types of hepatitis: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. While hepatitis A and B can be prevented with vaccines, there’s no such luck with hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is a contagious disease that can last for life, causing severe liver issues. The root cause here is the hepatitis C virus, which spreads through blood contact.
Hepatitis C can be acute or chronic:
- In acute infections, you may experience a short-term illness within 6 months of being infected, with a chance of the infection becoming chronic.
- In chronic infections, the virus remains in your body, causing serious liver problems, which at times may even lead to cirrhosis or cancer.1
The HCV infection is mostly asymptomatic, with less than 20% of the patients displaying symptoms – mostly vague intermittent fatigue or malaise. However, common symptoms to watch out for include fever, fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain, clay-colored stools, dark urine, and loss of appetite.
How Does Hepatitis C Spread?
Since hepatitis is a contagious virus that can spread when you come in contact with the infected blood. Possible causes include blood transfusions, organ transplants, needle-stick injuries, and at birth from an infected mother.
Although uncommon, it can also spread through shared toothbrushes or razors that come into contact with the infected blood and rarely through sexual contact. Partners and spouses have a higher chance of contracting the disease.
How To Prevent Hepatitis C Transmission
1. Be Honest With Your Family And Partners
If you know that are infected, inform your partners, your family, or anybody else you live with. This helps because both you and the other members of the house can take precautionary measures.
Remember, hepatitis C does not spread by sharing food and drinks, coughing, sneezing, hugging, and kissing. It is also not an airborne illness, so there’s no call for isolating the person.2
2. Practice Safe Sex
Be truthful with your partners. Although HCV through sexual contact is rare, it still is possible and you might be the unlucky one.3 So, follow these tips:
- Always use protective gear like dental dams or condoms during sex.
- Ensure that the condom doesn’t break during sex.
- Know who you are with. Preferably, opt monogamy to avoid HCV and even STDs.
- If you are involved with multiple partners, take precautionary measures to not contract or pass the infection on to others.
3. Avoid Sharing Personal Objects
Never share objects that might come in contact with your blood with others. These include:
- Needles, injections, or other equipment used for drugs
- Tattoo needles
- Nail clippers
4. Clean Up Any Blood Spills
Clean any blood spills in the house immediately as HCV can survive outside your body at normal room temperature for up to 3 weeks. To clean up the blood, mix 1 part household bleach with 10 parts water and use it with gloves on.4
5. Do Not Donate Blood Or Other Body Fluids
If you’ve HCV, do not donate blood, plasma, organs, tissue, or semen as doing so can spread the disease. People considered to be in the high-risk category of having HCV, such as those with a history of drug abuse, are commonly discouraged from a donation.
Virus inactivation is a strategy that blood banks can use to ensure that the donated blood is infection-free. Healthcare professionals are suggested to use double-glove protection to ensure that they do not mistakenly come in contact with infected blood and spread it to others unknowingly.
6. Create Awareness
Due to the diverse nature of this infection, prevention requires consolidated strategies such as creating awareness and following effective health policies, which is an uphill task for governments across the world. So, be responsible for yourself and for others.
Be aware of the risk of shared needles, multiple sexual partners, and unhygienic tattoo studios, to start with and counsel others. Share the knowledge with others as well.
How To Manage Cirrhosis
An estimated 20 to 30% of chronic hepatitis C patients develop cirrhosis. While cirrhosis development is rather slow, its common symptoms are rather severe. These include jaundice, weakness, and gastrointestinal bleeding, with the chances of the patient developing cancer.5
If you’re suffering from HCV, to reduce the risk of cirrhosis, here’s what you can do:
- Avoid alcohol.
- Eat healthily and get all the required nutrients.
- Drink a cup or two of coffee.6
- Keep yourself fit and maintain a healthy weight. Exercise every day for at least half an hour.
- Ward off other forms of hepatitis with the help of vaccines.
- Avoid medication that could possibly harm your liver. Check with your doctor.
- Follow all the tips mentioned so far to prevent hepatitis C.
The hepatitis C virus can be an infection for life, so the best thing you can do is avoid contracting it in the first place. If you suspect that you have HCV, no matter how minor your symptoms are, get yourself tested immediately. Start the treatment as soon as possible so that it doesn’t progress any further. More importantly, take support from your family and friends and ensure that nobody else gets affected by you.
|↑1||Hepatitis C FAQs for the Public. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑2||Hepatitis C FAQs for the Public. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑3||Shalmani, Hamid Mohaghegh, Mitra Ranjbar, and Amir Houshang Mohammad Alizadeh. “Recommendations for prevention and control of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection and HCV-related chronic disease.” J Liver 3, no. 147 (2013): 2167-0889.|
|↑4||Kao, Jia-Horng, Yue-Ting Hwang, Pei-Jer Chen, Pei-Ming Yang, Ming-Yang Lai, Teh-Hong Wang, and Ding-Shinn Chen. “Transmission of hepatitis C virus between spouses: the important role of exposure duration.” American Journal of Gastroenterology91, no. 10 (1996): 2087-2090.|
|↑5||Hoofnagle, Jay H. “Hepatitis C: the clinical spectrum of disease.” Hepatology 26, no. S3 (1997).|
|↑6||Corrao, Giovanni, Antonella Zambon, Vincenzo Bagnardi, Amleto D’Amicis, Arthur Klatsky, and Collaborative SIDECIR Group. “Coffee, caffeine, and the risk of liver cirrhosis.” Annals of epidemiology 11, no. 7 (2001): 458-465.|