Pamela Anderson has become the Poster Girl for Hepatitis C
How to Protect Yourself, Your Family and Friends from Hepatitis C
Regardless if you're recovering addict like me, or if you're still using, you've got a good chance of having, getting and spreading Hepatitis C to your loved ones.
Hepatitis C is more widespread than HIV
Although Hepatitis C is an epidemic more widespread and ten times more infectious than HIV, it hasn't received near the media coverage, until ex-Baywatch Beauty Pamela Anderson admitted to having the disease.
Statistics show that drug users are more likely to have Hepatitis C than people who don't use drugs. Since Hepatitis C is a virus that's spread through blood contact, such as IV drug use, sex and/or blood transfusions just like HIV, even drug users who don't use drugs intravenously are more likely to have Hepatitis C, considering they are more likely to be involved in risky and/or unprotected sexual behavior.
No matter if you have it or if you don't know if you have it, until you are 100% certain that you do NOT have it, you should be extra careful that you don't spread it to your family, friends, coworkers or people in general. Even if you're in treatment for Hepatitis with Interferon, you can still pass on Hepatitis C to others.
About 75% of people have no symptoms when they first acquire HCV infection. The remaining 25% may complain of fatigue, loss of appetite, muscle aches or fever. Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice) is rare at this early stage of infection.
Over time, the liver in people with chronic infection may begin to experience the effects of the persistent inflammation caused by the immune reaction to the virus. Blood tests may show elevated levels of liver enzymes, a sign of liver damage, which is often the first suggestion that the infection may be present. Patients may become easily fatigued or complain of nonspecific symptoms.
Symptoms may increase with time, regardless if liver damage has or hasn't occurred and can include:
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- breast enlargement in men,
- a rash on the palms, body, lips and/or genitals
- difficulty with the clotting of blood and
- spider-like blood vessels on the skin
If left untreated, hepatitis C can cause life-threatening complications, including liver cancer.
In patients with advanced cirrhosis, the liver begins to fail. This is a life-threatening problem. Confusion and even coma may result from the inability of the liver to process certain toxic substances.
Increased pressure in the blood vessels of the liver may cause fluid to build up in the abdominal cavity and result in engorged veins in the swallowing tube that tear easily and can bleed suddenly and massively. Portal hypertension also can cause kidney failure or an enlarged spleen resulting in a decrease of blood cells and the development of anemia, increased risk of infection and bleeding.
In advanced cirrhosis, liver failure causes decreased production of clotting factors. Patients with advanced cirrhosis often develop jaundice because the damaged liver is unable to eliminate a yellow compound, called bilirubin that is formed from the hemoglobin of old red blood cells
What Is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is a general term that means inflammation of the liver. It can be acute or chronic and has a number of different causes. It can be caused by a group of viruses known as the hepatitis viruses, including A, B, C, D and E. Other viruses may also be the culprit, such as those that cause mononucleosis (the Epstein-Barr virus) or chickenpox (the varicella virus).
Hepatitis also applies to inflammation of the liver caused by drugs and alcohol abuse or toxins in the environment. In addition, people also can develop hepatitis from other factors, such as fat accumulation in the liver (called fatty liver disease), trauma or an autoimmune process in which a person's body makes antibodies that attack the liver.
Viral hepatitis is common. Thousands of cases are reported to the CDC each year, but researchers estimate that the true number of people in the United States who have the disease (acute and chronic) is much higher than the number reported.
Many hepatitis cases go undiagnosed because they are mistaken for the flu. Hepatitis can be serious because it interferes with the liver's many functions. Among other things, the liver produces bile to aid digestion, regulates the chemical composition of the blood, and screens potentially harmful substances from the bloodstream.
The five hepatitis viruses can be transmitted in different ways, but they all have one thing in common: They infect the liver and cause it to become inflamed. Generally, the acute phase of the disease lasts from two to three weeks; complete recovery takes about nine weeks. Many patients recover with a lifelong immunity to the disease, but a few hepatitis victims (less than 1%) die in the acute phase.
Hepatitis B and C may progress to chronic hepatitis, in which the liver remains inflamed for more than six months. This condition can lead to cirrhosis and possibly death.
Hepatitis C may also lead people to suffer from sexual dysfunction and moderate to severe Psoriasis on the hands, body and genitals.
How Hepatitis C is NOT Spread
Hepatitis C is spread only through exposure to an infected person's blood. It cannot be spread through:
- Breastfeeding (unless nipples are cracked or bleeding)
- Sharing utensils or glasses
- Casual contact
- Shared food and water
As you can see, everyday contact is not risky. "The transmission rate between people in a household is probably just a little above zero," says Howard J. Worman, MD, associate professor of medicine at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York.
Hepatitis C is usually spread through contact with blood or contaminated needles -- including tattoo needles. Although hepatitis C may cause only mild symptoms or none at all, approximately 20% of those infected develop cirrhosis within 20 years. The disease can be passed on through blood transfusions, but screening, which started in the early '90s, has greatly reduced the number of such cases. In a third of all hepatitis C cases, the source of the disease is unknown.
How Hepatitis C is Spread
Hepatitis C is spread through blood, so follow these common sense precautions:
- If you're using injected street drugs, get into a treatment program. At the very least, don't share needles or equipment with anyone else.
- Don't donate blood, organs, tissue, or semen.
- Don't share razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers, or anything else that could have your blood on it. Cover any open wounds or sores with bandages.
- Carefully dispose of tampons, sanitary napkins, tissues, used bandages, and anything else that might have your blood on it.
- Be wary of tattoos, since tattoo needles not properly disinfected can hide trace amounts of infected blood.
What About Sex With Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C can spread through sexual intercourse, but it's rare. And it's extremely rare among monogamous couples. In fact, the CDC considers the risk of sexual transmission between monogamous couples so low that it doesn't even recommend using condoms. There's no evidence that hepatitis C is spread by oral sex.
However, if you have multiple partners you should take precautions. Using condoms will not only protect your partners from hepatitis C, but they will also protect you from other dangerous diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis B.
Can I Pass Hepatitis C to My Baby?
It is possible for a pregnant mother to spread the virus to her baby, but the risk is low. The CDC believes the transmission rate from mother to child is about 5%. The virus is spread at birth, and there's no way to reduce the risk.
There is no evidence that normal breastfeeding poses a risk. However, if a mother's nipples are cracked or bleeding, her child could conceivably become infected from her blood.
Encouraging Others to Get Tested for Hepatitis C
While the odds of passing on the hepatitis C virus are low, you should still tell anyone at risk that you have Hepatitis C. You should tell sexual partners, spouses, and family members. Your infection may be difficult to discuss, but anyone at potential risk must know. That way, they can get tested and treated if needed.
NOTE: There are Hepatitis C home test kits available at the Addicts Not Anonymous Store.
Edited By: Tom Retterbush