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Talking About Hepatitis C

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on October 22, 2020

Patient advocate Rick Nash sometimes wears a T-shirt that reads, “My pre-existing condition is hepatitis C.” (It is also known as hep C or HCV.) He uses it to jumpstart conversations about the disease.

Nash thinks frank talk can help debunk myths and ease the stigma around hep C. But not everyone is ready or able to be so open. Whether to talk about your hep C diagnosis or not is up to you.

If you want to tell others about your status, there are some tactics that could help make the conversation go better.

Talking to an Intimate Partner

It’s important to be patient and open to any questions your partner may have. It’s likely they’ll want to know how you got hep C and whether they could have it too.

Such questions are natural. But often, they're tough to answer.

Paul Bolter, community outreach and education manager at the American Liver Foundation in New York, explains why.

“There’s still a lot of stigma and shame around the disease. The first thing people think of is drug use or sexual transmission,” he says.

Continued

Even Nash writes that talking about hep C can feel like “you’re revealing a deadly secret.”

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To get over the hurdles:

Explain that hep C is a virus that spreads through contact with an infected person’s blood. IV drug use is one way, but there are others. They include:

  • Needle stick
  • Blood transfusion
  • Organ transplant before 1992

Tattoo or body piercing equipment that's not sterile can cause it too. Some people, like Nash, get the infection at birth.

Tell them hep C rarely spreads through sex. It’s a little more likely if you have rough sex, anal sex, or sex during an outbreak of a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Discuss safer sex options, such as using a condom if you make love during a woman’s period or have sex that can cause bleeding.

Encourage your partner to get tested. Angelica Bedrosian, MSW, a prevention and outreach coordinator at the Hepatitis Education Project (HEP) in Seattle, says most adults should get a hep C test at least once. Anyone who injects drugs should have a test every 6 months, about the time it takes to build up antibodies to the virus.

“[Make sure they know] the test is simple and hep C is curable,” she says.

Talking to Your Family

Bedrosian says you don’t have to disclose your hep C status to your family unless you want to.

She explains that on its own, living with someone who has hep C isn’t risky. You just need to take a few precautions. Don’t share personal items that might have blood on them, like razors, toothbrushes, and nail clippers. If you live with children, store these items out of reach.

If you do decide to talk to your family:

Explain that hep C virus spreads in different ways. You don’t have to say how you got it.

Assure your family they can’t catch hep C from you, even if you hug, kiss, or share food or utensils.

Tell them that hep C is curable. If caught at an early stage, hep C is curable about 98% of the time, says Robert Brown Jr., MD, chief of gastroenterology and hepatology at New York’s Weill Cornell Department of Medicine.

Don’t be afraid to ask for your family’s love and support, as well.

Hep C Communication Among Minorities

African Americans and some native peoples have higher rates of hepatitis C than other groups. Yet too few know about the disease or get tested for it.

Tips to Navigate Hepatitis C and RelationshipsYou can enjoy a healthy relationship while you have hep C. Learn what steps you need to take to make it happen.78

Hepatitis C is difficult to pass

to someone.

So even within a family,

it's rare to pass it on.

Today, most people get hep C

by sharing needles

or through other risky behavior.

But sometimes hep C can be

spread through sex.

So you and your partner

need to know how to best protect

yourselves.



Hep C doesn't spread

through kissing.

You also can't get it

through cuddling, snuggling,

handholding, hugging, or sharing

utensils.

Hep C spreads through blood

contact.

So stay away from situations

where you might come in contact

with open cuts.

Don't share razors

or toothbrushes.

Don't have sex

during your period,

and be sure to bandage

any wounds or sores.



For monogamous couples, the CDC

says routine condom use isn't

necessary.

But your chances of getting hep

C go up if you have

multiple partners, you have HIV

or another sexually

transmitted disease,

or if you have rough sex.



Communication is

key in any relationship.

Talk to your partner about best

practices to lower the risk

of infection

while being treated.

If you're concerned you might

have hep C, you can take

a simple blood test to find out.

If you have it,

you may be able to take medicine

that clears the virus

from your bloodstream.



Hep C is a curable disease,

and with a little planning,

you can have a happy and healthy

sex life with your partner.

Mayo Clinic: "Hepatitis C: How common is sexual transmission?”<br> National Institutes of Health: "Hepatitis C virus transmission and its risk factors within families of patients infected with hepatitis C virus in southern Iran: Khuzestan.”<br> CDC: "Hepatitis C Questions and Answers for the Public,” "Viral Hepatitis.”<br> Vermont Department of Health: "Living with Hep C.”<br> American Sexual Health Association: "Hepatitis C.” /delivery/aws/ef/a9/efa9d4a4-9e48-36b5-bf97-e589fab0f96f/091e9c5e81dc0364_vo-feature-hep-c-and-relationships_,4500k,2500k,1000k,750k,400k,.mp401/02/2020 12:00:0018001200photo of couple hanging out/webmd/consumer_assets/site_images/article_thumbnails/video/vo_feature_hep_c_and_relationships_video/1800x1200_vo_feature_hep_c_and_relationships_video.jpg091e9c5e81dc0364

Brown says there are several reasons for this.

“Access to care is less and trust in the medical system is less,” he says. “Stigma is [also] a key problem. We need to reduce stigma to eliminate barriers to care.”

In Brown's view, “The solution is to have less stigma and then more people could talk about it.” This is the reverse of Nash’s belief that more talk leads to less stigma.

Bedrosian falls somewhere in between. She thinks it works best if people learn how to talk about hep C. She points to HEP’s outreach programs. They include a peer-training model that describes how hep C spreads, how to prevent it, and how to educate others.

“This is how educational messages are best received, and how taboo is dismantled little by little,” she says.

WebMD Feature

Sources

SOURCES:

Rick J. Nash, hepatitis C advocate and former patient, San Diego, CA.

Lynn Wang, MD, gynecologist and sexuality counselor and educator, Philadelphia.

Paul Bolter, Community Outreach and Education Manager at the American Liver Foundation, Greater New York Division.

Mayoclinic.org: “Hepatitis C.”

Angelica Bedrosian, MSW, Prevention & Outreach Program Manager, the Hepatitis Education Project, Seattle.

American Liver Foundation: “Diagnosing Hepatitis C.”

Robert Brown Jr., MD, vice chair of Transitions of Care and clinical chief of the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Weill Cornell Department of Medicine, and member of the American Liver Foundation’s National Medical Advisory Committee.

Ethnicity & Disease: “Addressing Hepatitis C within a Southwest Tribal Community.”

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