WHAT IS HEPATITIS C?

Hepatitis C is a disease caused by a virus that infects the liver.  The virus, called the Hepatitis C virus or HCV for short, is just one of the hepatitis viruses.   The other common hepatitis viruses are A and B, which differ somewhat from HCV in the way they are spread and treated.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 2.7 million people in the United States have chronic Hepatitis C infection. 50 – 75% of the people who are infected with Hepatitis C do not know that they have the virus.

Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men have a higher chance of getting Hepatitis C if they are involved in high-risk behaviors, such as injection drug use and other activities that result in blood sharing.

HOW IS HEPATITIS C TRANSMITTED

  • By sharing contaminated needles or other drug-using equipment.  If you have ever shared drug-using equipment, you should get tested for Hepatitis C.
  • By using non-sterilized equipment for tattooing, acupuncture or body piercing.
  • By unprotected sex with someone who is infected when blood is present.  Also, you can become infected with Hepatitis C if you have sex with an infected woman who is on her period, or if you have sex with someone who is infected and who has sores on their genitals that may bleed.
  • By having HIV or a sexually transmitted infection (STI), having multiple sex partners or rough sex can increase a person’s risk for Hepatitis C.
  • On rare occasions, from an infected mother to her baby, mainly during delivery.  The risk may be greater if the mother is also infected with HIV.

HOW TO PREVENT HEPATITIS C INFECTION?

There is no vaccine to prevent Hepatitis C, but there is research being done to develop one.  Currently, vaccines are only available for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B.

Remember that Hepatitis C is transmitted or spread when the blood from a Hepatitis C-infected person enters the bloodstream of someone who is not infected.  If you don’t have Hepatitis C, you can reduce your risk of becoming infected by doing the following:

  • If you’re injecting drugs, try to get into a treatment program.  If you continue to use drugs, don’t share needles or other equipment with anyone else.  Many cities have needle exchange programs that provide free, sterile needles.
  • If you are sexually active (heterosexual or LGBTQ), you should use a condom correctly and consistently each time you have sex.
  • Make sure all equipment has been sterilized if you’re getting body piercings or a tattoo.
  • If you’re a healthcare worker, follow your institution’s safety precautions.  For example, wear protective clothing and gloves and dispose of contaminated sharp objects properly.
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