Dispelling myths about hepatitis C

Community Health Feb 22, 2013 at 10:23 am

Are the myths about hepatitis C endangering your health?

You have hepatitis C? Impossible, you say. But you may be wrong. That’s because there are assumptions made about the virus, spread through blood-to-blood contact, that are incorrect.

Dispelling those myths about hepatitis C could be a life-saver. Here are the facts:

Myth #1: There’s a vaccine for hepatitis C

TV commercials may lead you to believe that a simple vaccine will protect you from hepatitis. That is true for hepatitis A and B, but not for hepatitis C.

The good news is that while there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, treatment for the virus is available. Get tested for hepatitis C so you’ll know if you need treatment.

Also, because a person can be infected with more than one kind of hepatitis, it’s a good idea to get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B.

Myth #2: Only certain lifestyles put people at risk for hepatitis C infection

People sometimes think that only those who are engaged in ‘risky behaviour’ can get hepatitis C. The reality is that anyone can be infected with hepatitis C, for any number of reasons.

Hepatitis C is transferred through blood-to-blood contact, so there are many different activities that can put people at risk of infection, including:

• unsafe medical or dental practices such as blood transfusions where blood is not screened or procedures where equipment is not sterilized

• sharing needles or equipment for drug use

• unprotected sex

• body art like piercing and tattooing

• shared personal items like razors, toothbrushes or nail clippers

You may not realize that piercing or sharing personal items such as razors would be ways in which hepatitis C can be transmitted, but that is the case.

Myth #3: I have medical care I trust. I’m not at risk.

A person could be at risk for hepatitis C infection during a medical or dental procedure if a needle was reused, equipment was not sterilized or blood was not screened for a transfusion.

Screening for hepatitis C in Canada’s blood supply began in 1992. Blood transfusions before that year may have put people at risk for hepatitis C infection. Also, the safety of medical and dental procedures and the blood supply is not standardized worldwide, so immigrants to Canada may, without their knowledge, have been infected with hepatitis C in their home country.

Myth #4: I’m healthy and have no symptoms so I must not have hepatitis C

Hepatitis C infection may not show any symptoms for many years, so many people can have it and not know it. Early diagnosis can lead to better treatment outcomes. Getting tested is the only way to know your status.

How at risk might you be to having hepatitis C? Take the quiz in the sidebar and think about whether you should get tested for hepatitis C.


QUIZ: Should you get tested for hepatitis C?

Here are some questions to consider if you’re thinking about getting tested.

1. Did you receive a blood transfusion before 1992?

2. Have you ever shared a needle or other equipment for injecting drugs, even if it was only once?

3. Have you ever had unprotected sex with someone who didn’t know if they had hepatitis C?

4. Have you ever had body art like a tattoo or piercing, acupuncture, electrolysis or semi-permanent makeup done with equipment that may not have been sterilized?

5. Have you ever had medical or dental treatment where equipment may have been shared or not sterilized?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you may want to speak to your healthcare provider about getting tested for hepatitis C.

For more information about hepatitis C, go to yourlanguage.hepcinfo.ca. In Ontario, you can also call the AIDS and Sexual Health Infoline at Toronto Public Health at 1-800-668-2437. They offer free and anonymous counselling to anyone in Ontario about hepatitis, HIV and sexual health. They can also refer you to a clinic in Ontario to get tested.