Medical Myths: All About Hepatitis
Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. The liver is a vital organ that processes nutrients, filters the blood, and fights infections. When the liver is inflamed or damaged, its function can be affected. Heavy alcohol use, toxins, some medications, and certain medical conditions can cause hepatitis. However, hepatitis is often caused by a virus. The most common types of viral hepatitis are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.
Myth: All types of hepatitis are equally serious
No. The hepatitis viruses are actually very different
- “Hepatitis A: often makes people feel very sick for a short time, but it is very rare to have any kind of serious complications or long-lasting illness.
- Hepatitis B: can be very serious if a person’s initial viral infection becomes a chronic infection, but that happens in only 2–6% of adults, and some people never have symptoms during their initial infection (though the majority do).
- Hepatitis C: often doesn’t cause symptoms at first, but around 60–80% of people with a hepatitis C infection go on to develop [a] chronic infection, which eventually can lead to liver cancer, liver cirrhosis, and death if left untreated.”
In 2016, the WHO estimated that 399,000 people died from hepatitis C globally.
Until SARS-CoV-2, hepatitis C has been the number one cause of death in the United States from an infectious disease.
An estimated 71 million individuals globally and 2.4 million people in the United States are living with hepatitis C, which is double the number of people living with HIV in the United States, despite the fact that hepatitis C is completely curable.
The hepatitis C virus is not transmitted through breast milk. However, people with cracked or bleeding nipples should temporarily stop breastfeeding until they have healed.
Although this myth is widespread, it is still a myth. Hepatitis C virus [spreads] when someone comes into contact with blood from someone who has contracted the virus through shared drug injection equipment, non-sterile tattoo equipment, birth, or, rarely, sex.
Myth: People cannot have sex if they have hepatitis C
It certainly is not true that people with hepatitis C cannot have sex. However, there are some things to consider. The hepatitis C virus is disseminated by coming into touch with blood from someone who has been infected with it. High-risk sexual behaviors include anal intercourse and sex during menstruation, both of which increase the risk of blood exposure.
For monogamous couples, the CDC does not recommend routine condom use to prevent transmission. The risk of transmission is higher in those with HIV and in those with multiple short-term sexual relationships with partners who have hepatitis C virus. Under these conditions, condoms should be routinely used.
Jaundice is a sign of liver problems but not all hepatitis viruses cause liver problems right away.
About half of persons with hepatitis C have no symptoms at all until the virus has caused enough damage to their liver to cause jaundice or other symptoms, which can take years or decades.
Myth: Hepatitis is genetic
Hepatitis C is thought to be genetic and so can be passed down from generation to generation. This isn’t correct. Hepatitis C is a virus, it’s not genetic or passed down from parents.
Hepatitis can be transmitted from the mother to the kid after childbirth in rare cases. However, the chances of this happening are about 2–8%.
This is not true. Currently, there are vaccines for hepatitis A and B. Both of these require multiple shots to complete the series. As it stands, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C.
In 2014, researchers at Yale University found that hepatitis C remained alive a full 6 weeks after drying on a surface and had enough infectivity to infect someone. Previously people thought it could only live 4 days outside the body. Unfortunately, it’s a very hearty virus.
This is also a myth. Once someone is treated and cured of hepatitis C, they can contract it again — antibodies from the original infection don’t protect you like a vaccine might (if we had one)
Having hepatitis C virus once does not provide immunity against getting the virus again. People can contract it again after clearing the virus naturally or after being treated with medications.
Myth: Hepatitis C medications have bad side effects
This is not true. Current treatments for hepatitis C virus usually involve 8–12 weeks of oral therapy with pills. Cure rates are now over 90%. These new medications have very few side effects and are very well tolerated.
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