A blood-borne virus causes Hepatitis C. The blood-borne nature of the virus makes it possible for the virus to be transmitted to other people if they come into contact with infected blood or other bodily fluids.
You are at high risk for acquiring Hepatitis C if you have frequent potential contact with blood. This spectrum includes healthcare workers, IV drug abusers, patients getting blood transfusions, and dialysis patients. Getting piercings and tattoos might also put you at an increased risk of acquiring the virus. Having unprotected sex with multiple sexual partners can also put you at risk for contracting a Hepatitis C infection.
Hepatitis C is highly prevalent around the world. Risk factors such as IV drug abuse and sharing injecting needles contribute to a majority of the cases worldwide. However, the risk of infection related to blood transfusions and iatrogenic causes has decreased significantly since blood screening procedures in 1992.
WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS FOR HEPATITIS C?
As explained before, the risk spectrum for Hepatitis C covers a lot of possible scenarios. Although all of the aforementioned risk factors can put you at danger of contracting the disease, some carry more risk than others.
Sub-sets of people at a high risk of contracting Hepatitis C include:
- Healthcare workers who handle blood frequently
- Healthcare workers who suffer piercing injuries from needles
- Patients who receive blood transfusions, dialysis treatment, and organ transplants
- IV drug abusers
- IV drug abusers who share injecting needles
- People who snort cocaine
- Babies born to Hep C positive mothers
Some of the risk factors for transmitting Hepatitis C infection include unsafe sexual practices with multiple sexual partners and people who share their hygiene products – such as toothbrushes, trimmers, etc.
Getting tattoos and piercings at unauthorized and unhygienic locations also carries a high risk for Hepatitis C transmission. The reason for the increased risk with tattoos and piercings is the not-so sterile conditions and locations in which people get them from. In many tattoo parlors, less than optimal standards of sterility are exercised. Often the same needle is used for multiple procedures on multiple customers, thus, increasing the risk of transmitting infected blood.
Studies have shown that inmates, both current and previously convicted ones, are at a higher risk of acquiring HCV. This is because the sharing of personal hygiene products is almost inevitable in jail settings. Moreover, sharing injecting needles and having sex increases the risk of infection for all inmates.
Although blood transfusions carry some risk of transmitting HCV, studies have shown a downhill trend. The decreased incidence of Hepatitis C associated with blood transfusions is due to the modern screening methods employed to screen blood before any use in the hospital. In the United States, HCV infections due to blood transfusions have virtually disappeared.
HOW TO DECREASE YOUR RISK OF HEPATITIS C?
The prevalence of Hepatitis C continues to rise around the world due to the lack of a vaccine. Moreover, high-risk behaviors continue to put people at risk for acquiring this infection. Given the rise of Hepatitis C cases, there is a shared need for a cumulative effort to decrease the risk factors contributing to the spread of this disease.
If you have even one of the risk factors discussed above, you should take proper precautions to prevent yourself from acquiring an HCV infection. If you are a healthcare worker, make sure to take extra precautions when handling blood to minimize your risk of Hepatitis C. If you use IV drugs, avoid sharing your injecting needles with other people.
You can also decrease your risk of HCV infection by practicing safe sex. Avoid having unsafe sex with any sexual partner. You should never share hygiene products with anyone in any case. Take extra care if you live with a partner who has Hepatitis C.
Consult a doctor as soon as possible if you think your lifestyle has one or more of the risk factors mentioned above. Your doctor may be able to guide you better on how to minimize your risk of acquiring HCV.
HOW IS HEP C DIAGNOSED?
Hepatitis C diagnosis can be tricky since most infected people do not show any signs or symptoms. The absence of symptoms is the reason why so many people who have Hepatitis C remain undiagnosed. However, with careful examination and some investigations, your doctor may be able to make a concrete diagnosis.
Hepatitis C is tested by detecting anti-HCV antibodies in the bloodstream. These antibodies indicate a past or an ongoing infection with HCV. Once these antibodies are confirmed in the blood, an additional nucleic acid test is needed to confirm the presence of an ongoing infection.
Furthermore, liver damage assessment is also required after establishing a diagnosis to formulate an effective management plan. Treatment of Hepatitis C depends heavily on the status of the liver.
WHO SHOULD GET TESTED FOR HEP C REGULARLY?
Everyone who has at least one of the risk factors mentioned above should get tested for HCV regularly. High-risk behaviors such as IV drug abuse and unsafe sexual practice put you at an increased risk of contracting an HCV infection. If you are an illicit drug user or have a history of sharing injecting needles, get your Hepatitis C tests done as soon as possible.
People with other risk factors, such as those who recently got a tattoo or a piercing, should also get regular checkups. People with a history of transfusion before 1992 are also in the high-risk group and should get tested for HCV regularly.
If you have a spouse or a partner with HCV, you must get tested for HCV regularly. Living with someone who has Hepatitis C can significantly increase your chances of contracting the disease as well.
Other at-risk people who should get tested for Hepatitis C regularly include:
- Those who were born between 1945 and 1965
- Healthcare workers
- Those who share drug equipment besides injecting needles
- People born to HCV positive mothers
- Kidney dialysis patients
- People who have an STD
- People who have multiple sexual partners