The hepatitis C virus can cause an infection that left untreated may result in major liver damage. But despite the seriousness of the virus, many people are confused about who is at risk and how it spreads from one person to another.
Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes liver inflammation, sometimes leading to serious liver damage. The hepatitis C virus (HCV) spreads through contaminated blood. Still, about half of people with HCV do not know they are infected, mainly because they have no symptoms, which can take decades to appear.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone be screened for the virus at least once. But there are still several myths and misunderstandings that can prevent people from being tested for the virus. Some common myths about the virus are not based in fact. Here are several myths about hepatitis C that everyone should know:
Myth: If you have hepatitis C, you will know it right away
Only about 20-30% of people with hepatitis C will develop signs and symptoms of the virus soon after being infected, according to the CDC. And the symptoms that do develop, such as fatigue or abdominal discomfort, can be mild or unspecific, so you may be unlikely to visit the doctor.
Typically, the virus is discovered years after infection. Some people learn of it only after being screened for hepatitis C or after developing serious health issues, such as cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer, or kidney problems.
Myth: Teenagers are more likely to have hepatitis C
Fact: Those born between 1945 and 1965 are most likely to get hepatitis C. It could be because they were infected years ago when blood was not screened as well as it is now.
The CDC recommends that they be tested for the hepatitis C virus. They also suggest testing for anyone who:
- Has problems with their liver
- Has injected drugs
- Has HIV
- Had a blood transfusion before 1992
- Children born to mothers with hepatitis C
It is important for young people too for understand the risk factors and transmission pathways of hepatitis.
Myth: Hepatitis C can spread through casual contact
Fact: The virus can be spread by sharing things like toothbrushes and razors that have come in contact with another person's blood. The virus is transmitted through the blood. Today, people are most likely to get hepatitis C by sharing needles or other injection equipment. But hepatitis C is not spread by using the same forks, spoons, or knives. It is also not spread by kissing, hugging, holding hands, coughing, or sneezing.
Myth: There's a vaccine for hepatitis C
Fact: There is currently no vaccine that can prevent hepatitis C, but there are vaccines available for hepatitis A and B. If someone have hepatitis C, the CDC recommends talking to a doctor about getting tested and vaccinated for hepatitis A and hepatitis B, because those infections can further increase the chances of liver problems.
Today, the most common way to prevent hepatitis C is to avoid sharing injection drug equipment with other people, according to the CDC. Getting an unregulated tattoo or sharing personal items such as razors or toothbrushes that may contain contaminated blood can also spread the virus. Keep in mind that the virus can be cured with the right treatment.
Myth: Hepatitis C is spread primarily through sex
Fact: The risk of spreading the virus through sexual contact is low. That is because the virus is primarily transmitted through infected blood or bodily fluids that contain infected blood. But it is important to take precautions during sex. That said, some behaviors and circumstances could increase your risk of being infected (or, if you have hepatitis C, passing the virus on to someone else). These include having a sexually transmitted infection (STI), having multiple sex partners, or taking part in sex that causes small internal tears and bleeding, such as anal or rough sex. It is a good idea to use condoms during sex to keep from spreading the virus.
Myth: Hepatitis C will go away on its own
Although some people will naturally rid their bodies of the infection, most will not. An estimated 75-85% of people who are infected will go on to develop chronic hepatitis C, which can go undetected (and, therefore, untreated) for years, according to the American Liver Foundation.
The CDC estimates that more than half of people with chronic hepatitis C will eventually develop chronic liver disease. The infection can also lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer. In 2019, the latest statistics available, there were 14,242 deaths attributed to chronic hepatitis C infection.
Myth: Hepatitis C affects only the liver
Although hepatitis C primarily attacks the liver, the virus can also damage other parts of the body. For example, some people will develop hepatitis C related rheumatic diseases or conditions that affect the muscles and joints. Other people with chronic hepatitis C can develop diabetes, fatigue, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, skin problems, and more.
Myth: All hepatitis C drugs have terrible side effects
Fact: Newer antiviral medicines have made treatment shorter, more effective, and with fewer side effects. The goal of these drugs is to clear the virus from your body. Some get the job done in only 8 weeks. You will see your doctor regularly while you take these drugs to make sure your body is responding well to treatment.
Myth: It is nearly impossible to cure hepatitis C
Fact: About 90% of people are cured of hepatitis C with few side effects.
Myth: You can tell people have hepatitis C just by looking at them
Fact: About half the people with the virus do not know they're infected because they have no signs of infection. It can take years for any to show up. If you do eventually have symptoms, they might include:
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- Feeling tired
- Poor appetite
- Muscle aches
- Easy bleeding or bruising
- In severe cases, you may have fluid in your abdomen
Those are some myths & facts that are spread about hepatitis C. Do not let this misinformation stand between you and a diagnosis or treatment. Get checked out as early as possible if you feel you are in a risky group and see a doctor for further consultation.
- EveryDayHealth. (2022). 7 Myths About Hepatitis C
- Mayo Clinic. (2021). Hepatitis C
- WebMD. (2022). Busting Hepatitis C MythsBusting Hepatitis C Myths