Busting Hepatitis C Myths

You may have heard lots of interesting stories about hepatitis C and wonder how many of them are true. Some common myths about the virus aren't based in fact.

Myth: Hepatitis C is rare.

Fact: About 3.5 million people in the U.S. have it. That's about 1 in 50. It's the most common infection carried by blood in the U.S. About 30,000 people are diagnosed with hepatitis C each year.

Myth: You can't have sex if you have hepatitis C.

Fact: The risk of spreading the virus through sexual contact is low. But it's important to take precautions during sex. Your chances of spreading the infection are higher if you are with a new partner or have had many partners. It's a good idea to use condoms during sex to keep from spreading the virus.

Myth: Teenagers are more likely to have hepatitis C.

Fact: Baby boomers -- those born between 1945 and 1965 -- are most likely to get hep C. It could be because they were infected years ago when blood wasn't screened as well as it is now.

The CDC recommends that all baby boomers be tested for the hep C virus. They also suggest testing for anyone who:

  • Has problems with their liver
  • Has injected drugs
  • Has HIV
  • Had a blood transfusion before 1992

Children born to mothers with hep C should also be tested.

Myth: There's a vaccine for hepatitis C.

Fact: There are ones for hepatitis A and B, which are caused by different viruses. But there's no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C.

Myth: Once you've had hepatitis C and been treated, you can't get it again.

Fact: If your body fought the virus by itself or with treatment, that doesn't mean you won't be able to get it again.

Myth: You can get hepatitis C from sharing eating utensils.

Fact: The virus can be spread by sharing things -- like toothbrushes and razors -- that have come in contact with another person's blood. But hepatitis C is not spread by using the same forks, spoons, or knives. It’s also not spread by kissing, hugging, holding hands, coughing, or sneezing.

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Myth: All hepatitis C drugs have terrible side effects.

Fact: Newer antiviral medicines have made treatment shorter, more effective, and with fewer side effects. The goal of these drugs is to clear the virus from your body. Some get the job done in only 8 weeks. You’ll see your doctor regularly while you take these drugs to make sure your body is responding well to treatment.

Myth: It's nearly impossible to cure hepatitis C.

Fact: About 90% of people are cured of hepatitis C with few side effects.

Myth: You can tell people have hepatitis C just by looking at them.

Fact: About half the people with the virus don't know they're infected because they have no signs of infection. It can take years for any to show up.

If you do eventually have symptoms, they might include:

In severe cases, you may have fluid in your abdomen (your doctor may call this ascites).

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on September 12, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs: "Viral Hepatitis."

CDC:  "Hepatitis C Kills More Americans than Any Other Infectious Disease," "Hepatitis C Questions and Answers for the Public," "Testing Recommendations for Hepatitis C Virus Infections."

Mayo Clinic: "Hepatitis C."

American Liver Foundation: "Treating Hepatitis C."

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