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Tips for Preventing Hepatitis C

Is hepatitis C preventable? While there is no vaccine to protect against hepatitis C, this disease can be prevented by taking precautionary steps to shield yourself from infection. Unfortunately, infection rates for hepatitis C across the United States are up. The official estimate is that between 2.4 and 3.2 million Americans are currently living with hepatitis C. However, some experts believe that the true number is actually closer to 5 million. The reason why pinning down hepatitis C infection rates is so challenging is that some people who become infected remain asymptomatic. In fact, up to 75% of people with hepatitis C are unaware that they are carriers. Globally, more than 50 million people have chronic hepatitis C virus infection. It’s estimated that around 150,000 Floridians are living with hepatitis C. Sadly, the disease accounts for nearly 1,000 deaths in Florida annually.

The facts on hepatitis C make it clear that every American should have the knowledge needed to protect their health. What can you do to prevent hepatitis C? Keep reading to learn important information about how to prevent hepatitis C transmission.

What Is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a bloodborne illness that primarily impacts the liver. The hepatitis C virus can cause both acute and chronic cases of hepatitis C. A case of acute hepatitis C is defined as being a short-term illness that occurs within six months of exposure. However, most cases of hepatitis C become acute cases that result in lifelong infection. Chronic hepatitis C can cause a range of serious permanent health issues that include liver damage, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. It can be fatal. In addition, hepatitis C is the most common reason for liver transplants in the United States.

Can Anyone Get Hepatitis C?

Yes, it is technically possible for any person of any age to contract hepatitis C. However, transmission is rare for people outside of known high-risk categories. Currently, people who fall into the Baby Boomer generation are at highest risk for infection. Roughly 75% of people infected with hepatitis C in the United States were born between 1945 and 1965. Lack of screening in previous decades, unsafe blood transfusions, and other cultural factors are believed to be behind the high infection rates in this generation. That doesn’t mean that younger generations shouldn’t be unconcerned. In recent years, the number of young adults with hepatitis C has tripled. An increase in hepatitis C infections among people ages 18 to 35 is believed to be closely linked with the opioid epidemic.

How Do People Contract Hepatitis C?

Contact with the blood of a person who is infected with hepatitis C is the most common way that this disease is contracted. Both unmonitored professional situations and risky personal behaviors can make a person vulnerable to becoming infected with hepatitis C. Here are some common risks:

  • Sharing drug needs or drug paraphernalia with someone infected with hepatitis C (the most common way that hepatitis C is spread in the United States today)
  • Being pricked accidentally by a needle that was used on a patient with hepatitis C in a healthcare setting
  • Receiving a tattoo or piercing using instruments or inks that were not properly sterilized after being used on an individual with hepatitis C
  • Having contact with blood or open sores belonging to a person with hepatitis C
  • Sharing personal items with a person who is infected with hepatitis C
  • Engaging in unprotected sex with a person who is infected with hepatitis C

Mothers infected with hepatitis C can also pass on infection to their children during childbirth. While breastfeeding isn’t necessarily a risk factor for spreading hepatitis C, mothers with cracked or bleeding nipples should consult a healthcare provider before they continue breastfeeding. There are also several categories that everyone should be aware of when deciding if they should consider hepatitis C testing. Anyone who is either currently or has ever injected drugs should be tested. Additionally, it’s recommended that you undergo hepatitis C testing if any of the following apply to you:

  • You had a blood transfusion or organ transplant prior to July 1992
  • You received clotting factor before 1987
  • You have been on kidney dialysis
  • You have been in contact with potentially infected blood or needles in your workplace
  • You have worked in or been incarcerated in a prison
  • You were born to a mother with hepatitis C
  • You have HIV
  • You’ve had more than one sex partner within the past six months

Overall, most health agencies recommend that everyone over the age of 18 be tested for hepatitis C if they haven’t already been tested. Being tested at least once in your adult life is considered the minimum. Of course, it’s essential to speak with a healthcare provider as soon as possible if you have any symptoms that you feel may be linked with hepatitis C.

What Are the Symptoms of Hepatitis C?

A portion of people with hepatitis C will never experience any symptoms. However, even people who remain asymptomatic may eventually develop chronic hepatitis C. This can bring on a variety of severe health issues. These symptoms may include:

  • Bleeding easily
  • Bruising easily
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Yellowing of the skin (jaundice)
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Greying of stools
  • Itchy skin
  • Fluid buildup in the abdominal area
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Weight loss
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Spider-like blood vessels on the skin

A blood test is the most common tool for diagnosing hepatitis C. Healthcare providers use something called an HCV antibody test to look for antibodies that are responding to the virus in the body. Due to the fact that antibodies can take several weeks to show up following infection, healthcare providers will sometimes use a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to test for the virus itself.

Why Isn’t There a Vaccine for Hepatitis C?

People sometimes erroneously believe that there is a vaccine for hepatitis C. If you’ve been operating under the belief that you do not have to worry about hepatitis C because you received a vaccine, it’s likely that you were actually vaccinated against hepatitis B and hepatitis A. Generally, both are given to children in infancy or adolescence. However, there currently is no preventative vaccine for hepatitis C. Challenges related to the genetic diversity and evasive viral strategies of hepatitis C have prevented researchers from successfully developing and testing a vaccine that is safe for humans.

What Can I Do to Prevent Hepatitis C?

With the right level of awareness, there are numerous ways that people can prevent the spread of hepatitis C. The first step is knowing what puts you at risk. Here’s a rundown of tips to keep yourself safe from hepatitis C:

  • Never share needles: With intravenous drug users having the highest risk for contracting hepatitis C, you can dramatically reduce your chance of getting infected by avoiding needle sharing
  • Never share drug equipment: Straws, dollar bills, and other tools that are used when taking illicit drugs can contain microscopic droplets of blood that can be passed from user to user
  • Never touch another person’s blood: Blood should only handled in healthcare settings where you can verify that proper sterilization and safety protocols are being followed
  • Never share personal items: Assume that any items used for personal care can be infected with small amounts of blood that can infect you
  • Choose tattoo and piercing facilities wisely: Avoid risks that go along with amateur or unregulated tattoo artists and piercers by only patronizing licensed parlors that utilize proper sanitary processes
  • Always practice safe sex: You’re at higher risk for contracting hepatitis C through sexual activity if you have HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, engage with multiple sexual partners, or participate in what can be considered rough sex

While it’s important to know how hepatitis C is spread, it’s also important to know that the hepatitis C virus cannot be spread casually. Hepatitis C is not known to be spread through hugging, kissing, or sharing utensils. Additionally, coughing and sneezing are not considered transmission paths for the hepatitis C virus.

Is Hepatitis C Treatable?

While you cannot get vaccinated against hepatitis C, there are several treatments available today that have been shown to cure up to 95% of infected people. It’s recommended for people who test positive for hepatitis C to be treated with direct-acting antiviral (DAA) medication.

One of the biggest barriers to being cured of hepatitis C today is that people are simply unaware that treatments are available. While cure-level hepatitis C treatments have been available for a decade, most Americans are unaware that there are ways to be successfully treated for the disease. In fact, it’s estimated that just one out of three adults infected with hepatitis C has been cured. The top reason for these low numbers is that people are not seeking treatment. There also appears to be an age-related correlation to low treatment numbers. For people under the age of 40, the cure rate drops to one in four. For people under the age of 40 without insurance, the cure rate is just one in six. Getting treatment as early as possible can help to prevent severe liver damage. It can also help to prevent the spread of hepatitis C to others.

Where Can I Go If I Have Questions About Hepatitis C in Florida?

Getting essential life-saving information about how to prevent hepatitis C is the first step. While reading about how to prevent hepatitis C online is always a great start, it should not be viewed as a replacement for getting in-person care from a knowledgeable local care provider.

If you have concerns about your hepatitis C risk, a consultation with a healthcare professional specializing in sexual health can help you get on track with the proper education and testing. If you are sexually active, it’s highly recommended that you connect with a clinic offering sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing that includes hepatitis C testing.

When Floridians have questions about their sexual health, they come to LifeLine Health of Florida. As a leading provider of access to high-quality healthcare services, we prioritize testing and support services for HIV, hepatitis C, and STDs in underserved communities in Florida. Our patients are welcomed into a person-centered, trauma-informed care model with clinical excellence. Are you concerned that you may have been exposed to hepatitis C or another STD? Schedule an appointment today!

Listen To What Our Patients Say…

Cristina Anderson

I am thankful to the nice people at Lifeline Health. I was so scared when I found out I had been exposed. They guided me and made me feel so at ease. I have not had an issues and I know it's because I went to Lifeline Health first.

Juan Bustamonte

Thankfully there are places like Lifeline Health to get tested. This place is lowering the risk for our community by educating us and providing the resources to stay healthy. They are making positive changes in the community.

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