Myths about HCV from Around the World Pt 2

Check out Part 1 of the Myths about HCV from Around the World series.

Myth: A person with hepatitis C must be an IV drug user.

Fact: Although there are people who become exposed and infected to hepatitis C through IV drug use, people can also become infected through the use of a dirty tattoo needle, through a blood or organ donation before 1992, or through exposure via other sharp objects that have come into contact with the blood of an infected person. In fact, in some parts of the world, there is little to no access to IV drugs, and yet there can still be thousands or hundreds of thousands of people infected with the virus. It is important not to assume a drug history simply because you know someone has or once had the hepatitis C virus.

Myth:  If you receive donated blood or organs, you will get hepatitis C.

Fact: In the United States, all blood and organs were tested for hepatitis C beginning in 1992. Anyone who received either after that date was not exposed to the virus through donation. However, different countries began testing their blood and blood products at different times. It is important to research this information specific to the country where you received blood or blood products in order to find out whether you may have been exposed. In other nations where testing may be unavailable, there may be risk of exposure. However, in these locations, doctors and other medical professionals do their best to assess the risks versus the rewards to a patient in need of blood, blood products, or a donated organ.

Myth: If you had hepatitis C once and were cured, you are safe forever.

Fact: First, this is not about being safe, as plenty of safe people become infected due to experiences outside of their control.  In some cities and countries, using the word “safe” can be upsetting or offensive to the person who has hepatitis C, since it indicates that they did something to deserve or cause their infection.  Second, hepatitis C is a virus that the body can become infected with over and over if the body is exposed again and again.  Some people experience a second infection of the same genotype of the hepatitis C virus that they once had, others become infected with a different genotype of the virus.  The genotype is tied to the specific strain that the individual was exposed to, not to how the person became exposed or whether they have been infected with hepatitis C in the past.  This is why it is vital to use precautions as often as possible and to be tested any time a person thinks they may have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus.

Myth: Babies are too young to be at risk of hepatitis C infection.

Fact: A person can be exposed to hepatitis C at any age, including during fetal development while inside the mother’s womb.  During the fetal stage, a fetus’ exposure can come only due to any exposure or infection that the mother has.  Once the baby is born, however, elements of the outside world can lead to exposure and infection.  This may occur if the mother has hepatitis C and breastfeeds while having cracked nipples in the situation of a healthy baby or through exposure to blood or blood products if a baby is born with or develops a need for a blood transfusion or an organ donation.  In the developed nations, any need for a blood transfusion or organ donation will not expose the baby to the hepatitis C virus.  This is because there have been protocols in place for over 20 years that any blood, blood products, or donated organs are tested for hepatitis C and other illnesses before being used in needy patients.  However, in less developed areas, the focus may be on trying to save the baby in an emergency situation, which may mean that blood or organs are used that may not have had the same intensive testing.  This may mean that the information does not exist and the community is not concerned about hepatitis C or it may mean that a new mother and child are visiting a rural country and the mother must first trust the treatment available in order to save the child, knowing that exposure to the hepatitis C virus can be treated later by a doctor back home in their developed country.  If you are traveling with a young child, it is important to research the medical technology where you are going.  This will provide you with information regarding whether you feel safe bringing your child to the area and whether you should pack additional or extra doses of commonly used medication.  If you are uncertain about whether a trip is safe or what to bring, it is important to consult with your doctor.  Together, you can assess the risks and decide how to best prepare for the excursion so that you and your child are as healthy as possible and so that risks of exposure to hepatitis C and other illnesses may be as minimized as possible.1-5

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