What is hepatitis?
The word “hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver. The most common type of viral hepatitis is the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Typically, HCV is spread through contact with blood from an infected person. Each year, more than 15,000 Americans — mostly Baby Boomers — die from hepatitis C-related illness, according to The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Prevention.2
According to the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology,3 most Baby Boomers could’ve gotten infected from tainted blood and blood products before the testing of the blood supply began in 1992. Healthline4 says that sterilization techniques for routine surgical procedures were not as advanced as they are today.
Here's a quick look at what you, your family members and your friends need to know about this virus:
Start with a hepatitis C screening
Because hepatitis C is a “silent” disease — meaning you might not have any symptoms for years (or even decades) — it’s important to get tested. A simple blood test is all it takes to determine if you’re infected. Early detection can save your life. Left untreated, the virus can cause liver disease, cirrhosis and liver cancer, says the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology5. Hepatitis C can be successfully treated with medications called antivirals, according to the Association6.
8 hepatitis risk factors
According to the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology7, here are some risk factors for infection:
- History of blood transfusions or other blood products (before July 1992)
- Organ transplant before widespread testing for HIV and hepatitis (before July 1992)
- Long-term dialysis treatment
- Exposure to hepatitis C such as through a healthcare setting
- Infection with HIV, the AIDS virus
- Children born to mothers who have hepatitis C
- Any past use of injected illegal drugs
- Having received a tattoo with needles that were not properly disinfected
Avoid stigma and shame
Unfortunately, hepatitis C carries a stigma of being associated with injected drug use or tattoos, according to Healthline.8 That’s why talking to other people who have hepatitis C can be a helpful, therapeutic way to discuss what you’re going through. And remember: Don’t let hepatitis C define who you are, especially since new drugs have high cure rates of 90 percent, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.9
Hepatitis treatment options are available
Your doctor will discuss your best treatment options, but most cases of hepatitis C can be treated with an antiviral medication. The goal of the hepatitis treatment is to have it cleared from your body at least 12 weeks after treatment, says the Mayo Clinic.10 However, if you have severe complications from chronic hepatitis C infection, a liver transplant might be your best option, according to the Mayo Clinic.11
Where to find support
If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with hepatitis C, getting help is only a phone call away. Help-4-Hep12 is a free service that offers support for anyone who wants to know more about hepatitis C. It’s staffed by people who had hepatitis C and can answer questions about testing, finding a clinic, support groups and getting treatment. All calls are confidential. Call 877-435-7443 today. In addition, you can visit the American Liver Foundation’s13 website (