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New Research Confirms That Hepatitis C Stigma is Very, Very Real

If you are reading this, you probably know first-hand what hepatitis C stigma is. Stigma has been described as “perceived negative attribute that causes someone to devalue or think less of the whole person”.1

Stigma is a reality that people living with hepatitis C know by experience. Others may perceive hep C as “dirty”. Some people may not even acknowledge hep C because the symptoms can be invisible.

We know this stigma has far-reaching consequences. Today, we wanted to look at how stigma impacts those living with hepatitis C.

Stigma, chronic illness, and mental health

Social stigma can impact the health outcomes of those with chronic illness like hepatitis C virus (HCV). Studies have shown that chronic conditions without obvious physical symptoms can mean that others may or may not believe that the person really has the condition.2

This stigma affects a person’s physical health, but also has a major impact on the mental and emotional health of that person. Many people with chronic illness have expressed that they feel socially isolated from those who do not have the illness. People with illnesses transmitted by blood, such as HCV, often experience this isolation at greater rates.

Stigma does not end at physical, mental, and emotional impacts. Social stigma also greatly impacts the economic status of those with these illnesses. This may lead to health consequences that are made worse by poverty.2

How common is hepatitis C stigma?

A recent study explored the stigma surrounding HCV. An anonymous survey was conducted among people with a history of hepatitis C infection who presented for care at outpatient infectious diseases clinics. The outcome of the survey results focused on determining the perception of HCV-related stigma. Specifically, the survey questions were aimed at the person’s experience in healthcare environments and family perceptions of their disease.

The results of the study showed that more than 95 percent of people in the study reported experiencing HCV-related stigma.

More than 76 percent of participants responded that they are careful about who they did and didn't tell about their hep C. People diagnosed with both HIV and HCV were more likely to say that HCV had decreased their self‐worth; They also felt that people's perceptions of them were worse. The research also showed that hep C stigma affected people of all education levels and financial backgrounds.3

These results confirm what people with HCV have known all too well: Hep C stigma is a very, very real concern. Stigma is far-reaching and impacts physical, emotional, and social health. It is hard enough to have to live with a chronic disease such as HCV, but to also face the negative perceptions of others makes living with HCV that much more difficult.

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