Reveal or Conceal?
Hepatitis C patients have been discussing the pros and cons of disclosing their hepatitis C status since the virus was named in 1989. Some patients are very comfortable doing that and some are not. A patient’s knowledge about hepatitis C as well as what their reasons are for disclosing that they have hepatitis C, are things to take into account. It is definitely a personal decision that should be made after thoughtful consideration of how it will impact your life and emotional well-being.
Generally speaking disclosing hepatitis C status is usually not a legal requirement. It is more of an ethical or moral decision. You may make different decisions deciding whether to tell family and friends, employers and colleagues at your place of business, healthcare providers, and sexual partners. There are times when it is extremely important to disclose. Let’s look at each circumstance.
If an employer asks you if you have hepatitis C it is wise to tell the truth. You may be fired for not disclosing your illness if asked. The keyword here is “asked”. It is not against the law for an employer to ask you before hiring you as long as he/she asks everyone the same question. You may be offered medical and life insurance at your place of business and you must truthfully reveal your virus if applying for insurance. If the company has more than 15 employees you will be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and that act will protect you if you need time off for doctor appointments or other accommodations. Give extra special consideration when deciding about sharing your medical information with employers unless it is absolutely necessary. You could face some discrimination.
Telling the healthcare providers who take care of you is wise. Most patients are not doctors or dentists and do not know all the medical issues that a physician needs to be aware of in treating you for other health concerns. Don’t second guess what information they need. Help them take care of you by disclosing. Knowing that you have a liver disease may explain some of the seemingly unrelated symptoms you are experiencing and help the physician to diagnose other problems. It also helps them decide which drug treatments are safest for you. Disclosing your status also encourages the providers to be doubly sure they are following infection control guidelines also known as universal precautions.
Sharing your viral infection status with spouses, family members who love you, and friends, may be quite difficult. No one likes to be told that someone they care about deeply is ill. These people will likely have a million questions and some may even want to know how and where you got the disease. It is good to plan in advance how to answer those questions.
While hepatitis C is not considered to be a sexually transmitted disease, in some small percentage of cases, it can be transmitted. Hepatitis C is a blood-to-blood transmission. So patients engaging in rough sex, patients with sexually transmitted infections, or men who have sex with men, are at increased risk. If you withhold the information that you have hepatitis C, and your partner gets the virus, you could be held liable. Entering in to a relationship without sharing your hep C status, may leave a partner feeling betrayed and understandably angry. Give serious consideration as to when you should tell a potential partner. It is probably wise not to tell them upon meeting. If it looks like a true relationship is likely, and certainly before engaging in intimate relations, it is best to tell. Be aware though, that if the relationship does not work out, your partner may be angry and disclose your status for you. Get to know him or her as well as you can before you share that you have the virus.
All hepatitis C patients should educate themselves about hepatitis C. They should know the risk factors as well as how to protect others from transmission. The more patients know about hepatitis C the easier it will be to educate others. Knowledge is power. Make the people in your life powerful. Educate them. Make sure they know that hugging, kissing, sharing food and any casual contact cannot transmit the virus. Being able to provide information and resources for those people you have told, will help them feel more comfortable and less afraid for you and themselves, as well.
Lastly, with the development of the wonderful oral treatments we have available now, the vast majority of patients who treat are cured. Once a patient is cured, they cannot give the virus to anyone else. You can’t give what you don’t have. If your sexual partner is concerned because he/she knows you have been a patient and you have antibodies to hepatitis C and you are telling him you are cured, explain that cured patients will always have antibodies but they do not have the actual virus. You can go further and explain that if they ever had measles, mumps, chicken pox, etc., they have antibodies to those viruses as well. But, they do not transmit them. It is the same for hepatitis C.
Editor’s Note: Are you afraid to talk about your hepatitis C? Some people want to learn more about hep C, but also want to keep their diagnosis private. At HepatitisC.net, there are ways to get information and connect with others, without revealing your identity. Click here to learn more about how to talk about hep C anonymously.