What Is “Hepatitis”?
To put it simply, the word “hepatitis” refers to an inflammation of or damage to the liver. The liver is an important organ in your body as it is a major contributor to filter toxins and chemicals from your blood, it processes nutrients, and it also helps to defend your body from infections.
How Do I Get Hepatitis?
Hepatitis C (HCV) is a form of Viral Hepatitis; that is, hepatitis caused by a virus infecting your liver. There are a number of ways to contract viral hepatitis:
- Exposure to the blood of an HCV-infected person
- Sharing of needles with someone who may be infected
- Receiving a tattoo or piercing from an non-licensed person or in an informal setting (such as your home or a hotel room)
- Sharing person items, such as razor blades, tooth brushes, or blood glucose machines
HCV is almost always transmitted through blood from an infected individual to an un-infected individual. It is rarely a sexually-transmitted disease unless there is blood involved.
How Do I Know If I Have It?
There is no way to know you have HCV unless you have a specific blood test done through a medical professional. If one or more of the following things has ever happened to you, it is strongly recommended you go to your doctor and get tested:
- You have injected an illegal drug, even just once in your life
- You received a clotting factor before 1987
- You received a blood transfusion before 1992
- You have ever been on long-term dialysis
- You were ever accidentally stuck with a needle
- You received blood or an organ from someone who later tested positive for HCV
- You have HIV or AIDS
- You had a liver test that comes back with abnormal readings
- You were born to a mother who had/has HCV
What Can I Do About It?
See your health care provider and ask to be tested if you have any of the risk factors mentioned here. Do not wait for symptoms to appear as only 20%-30% of all cases develop any signs or symptoms at all. (The s/s can include fatigue, abdominal pain, poor appetite, and jaundice.) 15%-25% of the persons infected will clear the infection with no treatment. That leaves up to 85% of the infected population who need treatment for this illness. Successful treatment may mean changing your lifestyle, your eating habits, and possible medical intervention in the form of medical therapy. Treatments can range from 24 weeks to 48 weeks, but new medical technology is changing the way we deal with HCV all the time so it is important to talk with your health care provider to see what is appropriate for controlling your hepatitis.
What Else Should I Know?
In most circumstances, unless blood is directly involved, you may continue with your normal life. You can still shake hands with people, share plates and forks and straws, kiss your spouse and kids, etc. You will need to limit alcohol consumption, cigarettes and other forms of smoking, and usage of acetaminophen-based pain relievers. There is no indication or guidance from the CDC about limiting your occupation if you’re in child-care, food-handling, teaching, or another form of service provider.
Where Can I Get More Information?
Your Physician or Medical Professional
The Centers for Disease Control’s Website: http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HCV/
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/chronichepc/
The American Liver Foundation: http://www.liverfoundation.org/abouttheliver/info/hepatitisc/