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19 Ago 2016

Five most common hepatitis C questions: what you always wanted, but never dared to ask

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Asking the questions about hepatitis C to a doctor is the best. However, if the person suffering from hepatitis is not you, but your loved one, you might not have an occasion to talk to a doctor.

If you found yourself landing on this page, hepatitis C is probably not an empty word for you and one day you might need to discuss it with someone, without feeling intrusive,impolite, poorly informed or plain stupid. This is why we collected the answers to some hepatitis C questions for you.

Question #1: Is hepatitis C contagious?

This is one of the most common questions about hepatitis C.

Yes, it is contagious, butmostly only through blood.

Here’s how American Center for Disease Control and Prevention defines it: “HCV is transmitted primarily through large or repeated percutaneous exposures to infectious blood.”

In other words, in order to catch the virus, a person must be exposed to contaminated blood through a cut. Such “exposure” includes:

  • Injection drug use (nowadays, this is the most common transmission way in the US)
  • Needlestick injuries (for example, in the labs or hospitals)
  • Surgeries, dentist intervention, organs transplants and blood transfusions (mostly before 90s, when the routine screening was introduced in Europe and the US).

Sometimes, much more infrequently, hepatitis C can also be transmitted by:

  • Sharing blood-contaminated personal items (nail clippers, razors, toothbrushes)
  • Having sex with HCV-infected person (especially men having sex with men, and especially in co-infection with HIV)
  • Other invasive procedures not done according to sanitary regulations (injections, piercings, tattoos),
  • An HCV-infected mother giving birth to a child.

However, these ways are inefficient means of transmission, meaning that the contamination chances are relatively low. Of course, in case of repeated risky behavior, such as constant sharing injectionneedles or razors with infected person, the contamination chances increase.

Another variable that also comes into play when detecting the transmission risk is the quantity of virus in the effected person’s blood or hepatitis C viral load.With increased viral load, the transmission risk increases, too, and especially when it comes to mother-child contamination at birth.

Did you know? Hepatitis C virus can survive outside of human body (inside the syringe or on the razor, for instance) for several weeks!

Did you know? Hepatitis C is much less contagious than hepatitis B. Luckily a vaccine exists for hepatitis B!

Question #2: Is there a hepatitis C vaccine?

The answer to this another very common question is no, there is none. The vaccineagainst hepatitis C doesn’t exist. The research into the development is ongoing, but there’s still nothing really promising.

The main reason why there is still no luck with the vaccine development is that the virus undergoes the transformations in the human body. This is why the human immune system doesn’t react to the virus straight away, as it would with some other illnesses. For the same reason, there is no immunity developed against hepatitis C. HCV infected people who were cured spontaneously or by following a hepatitis C treatment)may catch the virus again if they are exposed to it.

However, it is highly recommended that hepatitis C patients get vaccinated against hepatitis B, because having two infections simultaneously greatly increases the harm caused to the liver.

Question #3: Can I transmit hepatitis C to my family and friends?

Technically yes, even if the friends are not “with benefits”. On the bright side, it only happens if the friends are directly exposed to the infected blood. And obviously, if some simple hygiene rules are followed, those are very rare, almost exceptional cases.

So, if an infected person disposes of sanitary napkins correctly, covers the bleeding sores and doesn’t share razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers, needles, syringes and all similar sharp objects, it is highly unlikely to transmit the disease.

Despite popular rumors, hepatitis C is not transmitted by hugging, kissing, sneezing, coughing, shaking hands, or by sharing food, glasses and spoons.

Even if onediscovers that he or she has hepatitis C, it is not always necessary for all the family to get tested. The testing is recommended in some cases where some specific risks were present. For example, if the mother suspects that she might have had hepatitis C while being pregnant, it is a good idea to confirm that the child doesn’t have the virus.

Question #4: What about my “friends with benefits”?

Scientific studies show that even though HCV can be transmitted sexually, the chances of this happening are very low. According to the study performed by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, HCV transmission has not been demonstrated in heterosexual couples monitored over time. The conclusion of this study was that condoms use in stable monogamous relationship between a man and a woman is not required.

Obviously, when it comes to having an intercourse with a random partner, HCV-infected people should protect their partners (and themselves!) by wearing a condom. This protection applies to hepatitis C, but also to hepatitis B, HIV and other diseases that any of two partners might have without even knowing about it!

The risk of sexual transmission is much higher when it comes to male homosexual couples where one of the partners is HCV-infected, and especially in case of co-infection with HIV.In these cases practicing safe sex is highly recommended.

Question #5: What are the HCV symptoms?

In many cases there are none. Chronic hepatitis C infection often doesn’t have any symptoms at all, or just lack of energy or fatigue. This is why hepatitis C often remains unnoticed, possibly leading over time to mild to severe liver disease, sometimes liver cirrhosis and eventually even cancer.

The lack of symptoms in the early stage of chronic disease is the reason why many people are only identified as HCV-positive during the blood donation or a routine blood test, through unusually elevated liver enzymes.

Nevertheless, before the chronic hepatitis infection develops, the acute HCV infection takes place. The occasional jaundice, liver pains or cold-like symptoms of acute stage can be easier to spot. If the symptoms are present, they usually appear between 4 and 12 weeks after contamination.

For more news about Hep-C, you can check out the blog:

Luca Xerri

Luca Xerri, was born in Bologna in 1981 and graduated in engineering in 2005. He has since been working internationally for 10 years in the Oil business. He recently cofounded Arimedio whose purpose is to give access to the Hep-C treatment to the largest amount of people.

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