Seven Things You Really Ought to Know About Hep C

I think it important to know about Hep C. It is associated with IV drug users but my mother got it from blood transfusions. She died in 1995 from liver cancer.  My sister was an IV drug user and got Hep C in her teens. She died in 2015 from liver cancer. I got Hep C in 2000 while taking care of JoAnn, my former drinking buddy, who was dying of untreated Hepatitis C. I had been sober for seventeen years and I didn’t realize how contagious the virus is. I should have been wearing gloves—I got the virus through a hangnail. I hope you will take a moment to learn about Hep C.

Seven Things You Really Ought to Know About Hep C

1. Hep C is really common. The Center for Disease Control  estimates that there are approximately 3.5 million people in the USA who have Hepatitis C Virus (HCV). Half of those who have HVC are unaware of it. Hep C is the most common blood borne disease in the USA.  Worldwide there are 130 to 200 million people infected with Hep C.

2. Many people contract HCV without knowing it. While some people experience flu-like symptoms within six weeks of exposure, many people do not experience symptoms. Most who get Hep C don’t have an acute illness and don’t seek medical care. It is estimated that that the incidence rate of non-reported to reported HCV cases is 12 to 1. Those who don’t know that they have HVC often spread the virus to others.

3. IV drug use is the most common way to contract Hep C, but any blood to blood contact with someone who has Hep C can cause infection. Blood to blood contact is the only way the HCV is spread—it cannot be spread by touching, coughing or sneezing, etc. However you can get Hep C by using personal items (toothbrushes, razors) of an infected person, or receiving contaminated blood transfusions (uncommon now in USA), having unprotected anal sex, getting tattoos in prison or in non-licensed tattoos parlors.

4. Hepatitis C is slow but deadly. It can take twenty years to develop cirrhosis. The rate of death due to HCV now surpasses the rate of death due to HIV/AIDS. Mortality rates of those with Hep C are twelve times higher than the normal population, and 75% to 85% of those exposed to HCV develop chronic infections. If you think there is even a slight chance that you have been ever been exposed ask your primary health care physician to order a test. It is a simple blood test for the HVC antibody and if you have Hep C it can now be cured.

5. Hepatitis C is hell on the liver and left untreated it will change your life. Long term effects of HCV include cirrhosis of the liver, and one in five develop liver cancer. But that’s not all. Extrahepatic (non-liver) symptoms affect 70% to 74% of those with HCV and include chronic fatigue, thyroid problems, digestive problems, joint pain, neuropathy, and blood sugar problems (diabetes, hypoglycemia).

6. There is not yet a vaccine to prevent Hep C. Public health prevention efforts includes harm reduction for people who use intravenous drugs (needle exchanges) and testing donated blood. There are vaccines for Hep A and for Hep B, and it is wise to get them because having more than one type of hepatitis is even more devastating to the liver.

7. There are now effective treatments for Hep C. The medications are very expensive. Whether insurance will pay for treatment may depend on a) how damaged your liver is, b) your viral load, that is, how much Hep C virus you have in your blood, c) the type of Hep C virus you have, d) other medical conditions.