Hepatitis C is a viral disease that attacks and breaks down the cells of the human liver. It is a stealthy, slow working disease that acts for long periods before becoming noticeable to those that are infected. A lot of damage can be done to the liver, a vital bodily organ, before the cause can be identified. Even when the effects are felt, the true cause can easily be misdiagnosed for other’s health complications.
The best advice is to consult your doctor if you only suspect you may have hepatitis. In the main, the virus is ‘caught’ from contact with the blood of other people that are already infected with the disease. It is possible but rare to contract hepatitis from body fluids other than blood.
Thus, the people most at risk of infection are drug users who share hypodermic injections, or those who have sex without the protection of condoms. Viruses are microscopic organisms and exist in their millions on only the tiniest amounts of blood. The virus will die outside of the host’s body, in between 16 hours and four days at ambient temperatures.
Just 2 years ago, a health study of infected people in England, showed that very nearly 90% of hepatitis cases were caused by shared injections. There were also some incidents of blood transfer from bank notes or straws used to inhale cocaine up the nose. Snorting drugs can cause bleeding in the nose, thus putting those that snort them as a means of getting high, at risk from contracting hepatitis C too.
When it comes to unprotected sex, the evidence shows the very rare, but there is a definite possibility of hepatitis infection. The advice is of course to wear condoms. Male homosexual sex is a more likely source of infection through blood than is heterosexual sex. Where sores or ulcers are present in the genital area, the risk of blood transference infection is also greater.
What about blood transfusions? Donated blood in the UK has been screened for the hepatitis virus, among others, since 1991. People who had a transfusion earlier than that time have a very, very small chance of being infected. Blood transfusions given under less than sterile conditions also run the risk of cross infection via traces of blood. If you have had a transfusion of blood and even suspect there may have been problems, ask your doctor to test you for hepatitis C.
Within the home, the joint use of personal toilet items, such as toothbrushes or razors, is a potential biohazard. Again, this is because of the risk of blood transference. Within the beauty industry, such places as hair salons and barber shops may pose a very minuscule risk, but generally, the care and hygiene are effective enough to avoid spilt blood totally.
The risk of hepatitis infection also very, very low in tattoo parlours, of course you may be the unfortunate 1 in a million customer who has their skin pierced by an unsterilisedneedle, but regulation is thankfully tight in the UK.
For every 100 pregnant women with the disease, 2 of them will infect their child. Levels of the virus need to be particular high for this to happen and is most common among mothers with HIV.