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Hepatitis C

What is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that specifically attacks the liver and can affect other organs. In most people who contract it, their immune system is unable to fight it off so they develop chronic hepatitis.

It can take 15 to 25 years for complications like cirrhosis or liver cancer to develop, and as many as 75 percent of people with the disease are unaware their liver is slowly being damaged.

“Now we’re looking at patients who might have been exposed 20 or 25 years ago who have developed the complications of their liver disease,” says Ray Rubin, M.D., a transplant hepatologist at Piedmont Transplant Institute.

The risk factors for hepatitis 

 

  • Previous intravenous or intranasal drug use
  • A blood transfusion before 1992
  • Exposure to hemodialysis units
  • Being HIV-positive
  • Children born to mothers with hepatitis C

“If you have these risk factors, you need to be tested with that simple blood test,” says Dr. Rubin.

Tattoos, piercings and pedicures: What’s the risk?

“The tattoo industry has dramatically revised how they use the ink itself, using disposable needles to try to reduce the risk,” he says.

While research hasn’t indicated hepatitis C is easily contracted from tattoos, piercings or pedicures, it is still technically possible.

“Just because hepatitis C is an infection that is transmitted from blood to blood, it doesn’t necessarily have to be visible blood – it can be a microscopic amount unfortunately at the right time and right place,” he says.

To reduce your risk:

 

  • Only visit tattoo parlors and piercing salons that use disposable needles.
  • When getting a manicure or pedicure, bring your own tools and don’t allow them to trim your cuticles.
  • Ask about the salon or parlor’s sterilization practices.
  • Never have a piercing done with a piercing gun, as it cannot be sterilized properly between piercings.
  • Make sure the person doing the piercing or tattoo has washed his or her hands and is wearing gloves.
  • Check with your local health department to see if any complaints have been issued about the salon or parlor you were planning to visit.

Hope for people with hepatitis C

It’s a stunning statistic, but 75 percent of people in the United States who are living with hepatitis C have not been diagnosed. As many as 1 in 30 baby boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) are infected with the virus.

 “We’ve known about this infection for more than 25 years,” he says. “There are many reasons to be hopeful that our treatment of hepatitis C is only going to get better as we go forward.”

Dr. Rubin expects more patients will be diagnosed thanks to increased awareness and in the last few years, scientific advances have made treatment for hepatitis C shorter and more effective.

“Another reason to be exceptionally hopeful is the newer medications that will be available by the end of this year,” he says.

“It looks like we’re going to be curing a lot more patients with hepatitis C.”

Learning your hepatitis C status is crucial because the sooner the disease is treated, the better your chances of a cure. 

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