What Is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is a condition where your liver becomes inflamed. It’s usually caused by a virus such as Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C.
Hepatitis A is a viral infection that inflames your liver. It is not a sexually-transmitted disease and does not result in chronic liver inflammation. There is a vaccine you can get to prevent contracting Hepatitis A.
Hepatitis B is a viral infection that can be an acute, short-term disease for some, but can be a lifelong chronic infection for others. You can get Hepatitis B from oral, vaginal and anal sex. It’s 100 times easier to transmit Hepatitis B than it is to transmit HIV. There is a vaccine available to protect you from Hepatitis B.
While the Hepatitis C virus can cause acute, short-term hepatitis, it most often causes chronic, long-term hepatitis that becomes a serious lifelong illness. There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C, but there is medication available.
The remainder of this article will focus on Hepatitis C, since you can easily prevent Hepatitis A and B by getting vaccinated.
How Do You Get Hepatitis C?
You get the Hepatitis C virus by exchanging blood with someone who has the virus. The most common way Hepatitis C is contracted is through intravenous drug use and sharing a needle with someone who has the virus. While it’s possible to get Hepatitis C from having sex, it’s not very common.
People born between 1945 and 1965 are five times more likely to have Hepatitis C because there were no tests that could identify the disease in donated blood. Anyone who received a blood transfusion might have contracted the disease from that procedure. There are tests today that screen for Hepatitis C in donated blood.
How Do You Know If You Have Hepatitis C?
Most people with Hepatitis C don’t experience any symptoms until they develop chronic liver disease. Some people have general symptoms such as fatigue and depression. Many people find out they have Hepatitis C during a blood donation screening or during a routine examination when their liver enzymes are elevated.
The only way to know for sure if you have Hepatitis C is to get tested.
Can You Treat or Cure Hepatitis C?
There is medicine available that can cure Hepatitis C in about 95 percent of cases. It’s a pill that contains two drugs that prevent the virus from replicating. Patients with Hepatitis C take the pill once a day for eight to 12 weeks. The cost, however, is almost $9,000 per pill.
Is Hepatitis C Dangerous?
Yes. About two-thirds of people who get Hepatitis C suffer chronic infection and are at risk of cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer. In 2015, there were approximately 1.34 million deaths globally due to Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.
Can You Prevent Hepatitis C?
Avoiding the risky behaviors that can lead to contracting Hepatitis C, such as sharing needles with intravenous drug use and having sex with multiple partners, is the best way to avoid getting Hepatitis C. For sexually-active adults, properly using a condom is a highly-effective preventative measure.
How Do You Test for Hepatitis C?
Blood tests are used to detect Hepatitis A, B and C. For Hepatitis C, the first blood test checks for antibodies to the virus, which means you’ve been exposed to the virus in the past. The second blood test determines what type of Hepatitis C you have and how much of the virus is in your blood.
Both blood tests are important because about 15 to 25 percent of people who contract Hepatitis C fight the virus naturally and eliminate it from their bodies within six months. They would have a positive antibody test, but the second blood test would reveal that the virus was not detectable in their blood.
Can I Get an Anonymous Hepatitis C Test?
If you test positive for Hepatitis C, medical professionals are required by law to report you and your personal information to the state health department, who in turn report the information to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To protect your identity, you can follow the instructions in our Guide to Anonymous STD Testing to get an anonymous test.
How Can I Find Out More About Hepatitis?
The CDC has a wealth of information about Hepatitis C and about all forms of Hepatitis.