Hepatitis C Facts
So what is this stuff?
Hepatitis C is one of the lesser-known STD’s. Yet, some 200 MILLION people are estimated to have it, worldwide. (To give you some perspective, the US population is only 300 million.) A lot of people, huh. This disease starts out slowly, presenting symptoms most people would ignore. Eventually, however, it can lead to liver failure, liver cancer and a very painful death. There is no a vaccination, and while some purport a cure is possible, the jury is still out.
How do I get it?
Blood to blood contact is the simplest way. And because the virus can live on inanimate objects for a certain period of time, it’s actually possible to get this just by sharing a toothbrush with someone. Or a razor. Let me be more specific – It’s suspected this virus can live at room temperature for as long as 4 days. Think about that the next time you touch something and you don’t know where it’s been! This makes tattooing a possible vector – make sure your tattoo parlor adheres to universal precautions. Sexually, it’s less commonly transmitted, but it’s certainly possible. Anal sex or rough vaginal sex make a person more susceptible due to increased possibility of tearing and blood exchange. They say it’s not known to spread via cunnilingus or fellatio – but I can’t say I want to take their word for it.
What are the symptoms?
In the first year, next to nothing, unless you’re already immuno-compromised. Beyond that, it would resemble the flu, usually. In most cases the symptoms wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary, and, in fact, most diagnoses are coincidental. Otherwise, liver problems are the most common, as this virus pretty much targets that organ. People with full-blown Hep C could be jaundiced, as well.
What’s the worst that can happen to me?
You can die a very painful death as your liver shuts down. According to the CDC, about 85% of infected persons will end up with chronic infection. 70% will wind up with chronic liver disease. 20% could develop cirrhosis within 30 years. And, in case you’re not familiar with the latter, it’s a rather painful way to die.
How do I get tested?
It’s a very simple blood test. Your doctor or local STD clinic would be happy to test you. It’s important to note there is a WINDOW here. You can end up with a false negative if you test within 3 months of exposure. Your best bet is to wait until you’ve passed the 3 month mark before testing. Unless you want to do it twice, which is certainly not unheard of.
What if I have it?
In early 2007 doctors claimed that a combination of Interferon and Ribavirin could cure people of this virus. That gives hope to the 300 million living with it. If these don't work for you however, you'll need to think about the following:
You’ll have to start taking precautions to prevent transmission to others. That said, the CDC actually doesn’t recommend changing sex habits if already in a monogamous relationship that doesn’t utilize condoms. It would seem the virus is very rarely passed this way. If your partner is immuno-compromised, however, it would be wise to start using them. Condoms do prevent Hepatitis C transmission, and peace of mind is probably worth this much. You’ll need to change your diet, and you’ll need to restrict alcohol intake. Your liver will need all the help it can get. You will also likely need to start treatment – and since there isnt’t a cure, it’s mostly experimental these days. And expensive. And it can come with lots of side-effects.
How can I prevent it?
Use the same precautions you would use for preventing HIV transmission, and then also make sure you don’t share things that could have come in contact with blood. Razors, toothbrushes, nail files, nail clippers, etc. It should go without saying one should not be injecting drugs, but if you are, avoid sharing needles.