Hearing that you have contracted hepatitis C (or hep C) can be a scary moment. Blood work has notified your doctor of your condition, and now you’re being told of treatment options, medication, and what comes next. You barely hear any of it as you process the news. How? Why? Really? What’s going to happen? Am I dying? Waves of questions crash over you and you feel smothered by a rising tide of emotions. Where do you go from here? You are yanked into reality by a caring hand on your arm. “Are you okay? Do you need a minute?” You see your doctor put down the chart and pull up the iconic rolling stool that your kids love to play on. “Let me start again, and we will go through what living with hep C looks like. Don’t worry. We are in this together.”
Hepatitis C is the most common but infectious blood-borne disease in the US, affecting more than 3 million people. Individuals are often unaware they have contracted the disease, and are informed through routine blood-work results. According to the CDC, although it is passed through the blood, the virus can survive up to three weeks on a dirty surface at room temperature. Many individuals do not realize the exposure possibilities, and consequently there are many unfair and inaccurate assumptions about a person’s lifestyle and choices. Healthcare settings, blood transfusions, military services, and many other environments can create the conditions for contracting hep C. Children and adults alike can be exposed without knowing it.
You may be asking what exactly is hep C and what does it do to a person’s health?
- Hepatitis C can start as an acute infection, and for some people, can remain in the body and cause chronic liver conditions. “Hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver, and although toxins, certain drugs, some diseases, heavy alcohol use, and bacterial or viral infections can cause hepatitis, it is a viral infection that causes hep C.
- There are also two types: acute and chronic. Every case of chronic hep C began as an acute infection where the body was not able to spontaneously clear the virus. Symptoms, if present, will appear in one to three months after exposure and may include jaundice, along with fatigue, nausea, fever and muscle aches. These symptoms vary in duration; anywhere from two week to four months.
- Chronic hepatitis C can be treated, but is not always cured. Chronic infection can progress to serious liver disease, including scarring of the liver (fibrosis) and advanced scarring (cirrhosis). This occurs over years of time and failure to follow treatment plans.
Now that you know what it does, you ought to know what can be done.
- Follow the prescription plan of your physician. Common hepatitis C treatments include injections or antiviral drugs taken in pill form. While there isn’t a vaccine for hep C, a number of drug treatments are becoming more available as time and research continue.
- Be health and safety conscious. Avoid encounters with blood and do not share hygiene items that may transmit blood particles. Monitor sexual activity and inform potential partners of your condition.
- Reduce the damage being done to your liver. Avoid or severely limit alcohol consumption. Limit stress or engage in activities that decrease stress levels. Take over-the-counter medications such as aspirin or vitamins in conjunction with your doctor’s approval and care plan.
- Eat a healthy balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, while avoiding too much salt, sugar, and fat. Exercise are you are able, and rest whenever you are feeling tired or worn out.
A diagnosis of hepatitis C can be overwhelming, and it is very important to guard against both mental and physical distress. Following the do’s and don’ts of your condition will keep you proactive in addressing potential negatives that could affect both mind and body. Work closely with your doctor to address your concerns, needs, and fears, and stay informed of current research, information, and treatment. Take your diagnosis one day at a time and remain positive and hopeful about treatment options and your personal care plan.