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What is Hepatitis C, and Can it be Cured? 7 Myths and Facts You Need to Know

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Because of its increasing prevalence in society, you can and should protect yourself by learning how the hepatitis C virus works.

Hepatitis C is a crippling and oftentimes chronic virus with a seemingly bleak outlook. It is a diagnosis many hope never to face yet for more than 170 million people worldwide, it is a reality.

Hepatitis means an inflammation of the liver, and the most common hepatitis viruses are hepatitis A, B and C. While one can vaccinate against both hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine available for hepatitis C, a particularly unsettling fact given that hepatitis C is on the rise.

Because of its increasing prevalence in society, you can and should protect yourself by learning how the virus works. Here are seven myths and facts about hepatitis C you need to understand.

1. Hepatitis C is a foodborne illness.

Myth. Hepatitis C is a blood borne illness, meaning you catch it by coming into contact with an infected person's blood. This occurs through sharing syringes and needles, which is why drug users are especially at risk.

Unsanitary tattoo parlors can also spread hepatitis C, as can medical practitioners who do not follow sanitary procedures. Less commonly, sharing razors, toothbrushes or having sexual contact with an infected person may also spread the virus.

2. Hepatitis C cannot be spread through hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing or sneezing.

Fact. It is spread only through coming into contact with an infected person's blood.

3. Those born between the years 1945 and 1965 are at the highest risk for having hepatitis C.

Fact. Three out of four people with hepatitis C were born between 1945 and 1965, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and were likely infected between 1960 and 1980. The reason is unknown, though it could be because there weren't universal sanitary procedures at the time. Also, before 1992, donated blood was not always properly screened, so someone receiving a blood transfusion could be infected by contaminated blood. This still occurs today, though it is less common than it used to be.

4. If you develop acute hepatitis C, you will always develop chronic hepatitis C.

Myth. Hepatitis C begins as acute hepatitis C and, for most, slowly progresses into becoming a chronic, or lifelong, infection. However, 15 to 25 percent of people will clear it from their bodies on their own. Treating the infection early will lower the chances of it becoming chronic, but it remains unclear what the best treatment options are and when to begin them.

5. In the early stages of hepatitis C, most will not experience symptoms.

Fact. Around 80 percent of people will not experience symptoms until the virus has progressed significantly, according to the World Health Organization. Left untreated, hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure. The CDC estimates there are 3.5 million people in the United States living with hepatitis C, and about half of them are unaware of it.

6. Pregnant mothers can pass hepatitis C to their babies.

Fact, but it is rare. Only 6 out of every 100 babies born to mothers infected with hepatitis C will be born with the virus, according to the CDC. Unfortunately, due to increased drug use, hepatitis C in pregnant women has nearly doubled in recent years.

7. If you develop chronic hepatitis C, it is not curable.

Myth. Chronic hepatitis C is curable. Taking oral medications for 2-6 months can eliminate the virus, according to WebMD. Infected persons are considered cured if they are virus-free six months after completing the treatment. For a full list of treatment options visit fda.gov.

Hepatitis C is a devastating diagnosis but, if caught in time, there is much that can be done. Several treatments are available to ease symptoms and rid the virus from your body.

And, thanks to medical research, newer and better options are constantly being developed with the hope that hepatitis C will no longer be the cause of so much pain, heartbreak and suffering, as well as thousands of deaths each year.

A gastroenterologist can perform tests to diagnose hepatitis C and can also prescribe treatment. If you’re interested in getting tested or learning more, visit endo-world.com. Gastroenterology Associates of Pensacola has experts who can help.