Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is among the most critical sexually transmitted infections due to its
Hepatitis C doesn’t cause symptoms in everyone. About 30% of people with hepatitis C clear the infection on their own within six months, and many of those have no idea they were infected in the first place. About 70% of people, though, develop a chronic infection that can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, cancer, and even death.
Is there immunization for hepatitis C? Unfortunately, no. There’s a vaccine for hepatitis A and B, but researchers haven’t yet developed one for hepatitis C. That’s because hepatitis C mutates more easily than the A and B types. But the good news is that hepatitis C is highly treatable, and the sooner you start treatment, the better your outcome will be.
If you think that you may have hepatitis C, ask your doctor to test you right away. You can also order a 10-panel STD test to test for all three types of hepatitis, as well as seven other common STDs.
What You Need To Know About Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is a liver infection that can spread to you if you come into contact with the blood of an infected person.
Hepatitis A, B, and C are all caused by viruses, and all affect your liver with similar symptoms and potentially cause cirrhosis and liver cancer. We’ll talk about what makes each virus different below.
Hepatitis C spreads through blood and bodily fluids. The virus commonly spreads between people who share needles, and it’s also possible for pregnant moms to transmit the virus during birth. You can get hepatitis C by having sex with an infected person, but this is fairly rare.
About 70% of people with chronic hepatitis C develop liver disease. Many of these people eventually need a liver transplant. Without one, they could die.
Although it’s fairly easy to cure hepatitis C, many infected people don’t even know they have it. By the time they realize something is wrong, the infection may have done serious and irreparable damage to their body.
Is there immunization for hepatitis C? Unlike hepatitis A and B, you can’t get vaccinated against hepatitis C.
Hepatitis A spreads through sexual content, contact with an infected person’s feces, close personal contact, or eating food contaminated with the hepatitis A virus. People who care for the elderly, such as nursing home workers, have a high risk of contracting hepatitis A.
If you’re wondering, “Which hepatitis is not curable?” the answer is hepatitis A. Although there’s no cure, your body should clear the infection on its own in a few months. You’ll have protective immunity (natural immunity) from infection after that. The best way to prevent infection is by getting the hepatitis A vaccine.
Hepatitis B spreads through contact with infected blood or other bodily fluids. If you have unprotected sex with an infected person or share drug needles with someone, you’re at risk of contracting hepatitis B. People who handle needles at work, such as nurses and doctors, have a higher risk of getting hepatitis B. The infection can also pass from a mother to her baby during birth.
About 15% to 25% of people with chronic hepatitis B die from chronic liver disease. People with chronic hepatitis B also have a high risk of liver failure and cancer.
There is no cure for hepatitis B. If you have the acute type, the virus should clear up on its own. If you develop chronic hepatitis B, you’ll need treatment for the rest of your life.
The best way to avoid hepatitis B is to get the vaccine.
How To Know if You Have Hepatitis C
If you have acute hepatitis C, you may notice no symptoms at all. Chronic hepatitis C symptoms can include fatigue and depression, and it’s very easy to mistake those symptoms as a sign of something else.
If you have no symptoms, the best way to find out whether you have hepatitis C is to get tested. You can ask your doctor to test you or order same-day STD testing from Rapid STD Testing.
How Hepatitis C Affects the Body
You may not notice any symptoms until your liver becomes scarred (cirrhosis). Here’s how hepatitis C affects the body:
- Yellow skin (jaundice)
- Swelling in your belly due to fluid buildup
- Pain in the upper right abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Dark urine
- Pale stools
If you have any of these symptoms, ask your doctor to test you for hepatitis C right away. The longer you wait, the worse the infection can get.
Is There a Vaccine for Hepatitis C?
Researchers haven’t yet discovered a way to vaccinate against hepatitis C. That’s because hepatitis C mutates easily, similar to the common cold. Even if researchers found a vaccine that worked today, the virus could mutate days or weeks later, making the vaccine effectively worthless.
Another reason why scientists struggle to make a vaccine is that hepatitis C has eight genotypes, which are genetically distinct types of the hepatitis C virus. These genotypes vary from one another by up to 30% (comparatively, hepatitis B genotypes vary by just 8%). A vaccine that worked for one genotype probably wouldn’t work for the others.
It can be difficult to conduct hepatitis C research in industrialized countries like the U.S. Reasons for this include:
- A lack of funding
- Compared to other diseases, hepatitis C is relatively uncommon and symptoms can be hard to recognize (only 17,000 people contract hepatitis C in the U.S. per year, and many don’t know they have it)
- The stigma around hepatitis C may prevent people from seeking treatment.
Only two hepatitis C vaccine candidates have progressed to human trials so far. Still, scientists continue to study the virus in hopes of finding a viable vaccine.
Michael Houghton, who co-discovered the hepatitis C virus, thinks that researchers could find a vaccine for hepatitis C in the next five years. For all the damage that the COVID-19 pandemic caused, it could have a silver lining: Researchers may be able to use the same RNA technology used in the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine to make a vaccine for hepatitis C.
Houghton and his colleagues are currently developing a type of vaccine called an adjuvanted recombinant vaccine that may produce the antibodies needed to prevent hepatitis C infection. Human efficacy clinical trials could begin in 2023 and last through 2026. If he and his team can prove the vaccine’s efficacy and safety, they could roll out the vaccine to high-risk groups as soon as 2026.
Many people ask, “Does hepatitis B vaccine protect against hepatitis C?” After all, both are types of hepatitis, right? Unfortunately, the hepatitis B vaccine cannot prevent hepatitis C. That vaccine only prevents hepatitis B and nothing else.
What about the HPV vaccine? That doesn’t work against hepatitis C either because these infections aren’t the same thing. Although hepatitis C is shortened as “HCV,” this is different than human papillomavirus infection (HPV), a common STI that causes warts around the genitals.
Hepatitis C Medication
Is there immunization for hepatitis C? No, but treatments are available. Doctors may recommend treatment if your body doesn’t clear the virus on its own.
Your doctor might treat you with pan-genotypic direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) such as daclatasvir and sofosbuvir. These drugs can cure you of hepatitis C in 12 to 24 weeks. Treatment time may be longer if you have cirrhosis (scarring on your liver). If you have severe liver damage, your doctor may recommend a liver transplant.
Doctors strongly recommend DAA treatment for these groups:
- People with a high risk of severe liver complications and immune responses
- People who have undergone a liver transplant
- People who have compensated cirrhosis or advanced fibrosis
- People in high-risk groups, such as incarcerated people, drug users who share needles, and men who have unprotected sex with other men
Prevention Against Hepatitis C
Although there’s no vaccine for hepatitis C, there are a few ways to prevent hepatitis C and avoid infection in the first place.
Avoid Sharing Personal Care Items
Sharing toothbrushes and other personal care items is one way that HCV can spread. Personal care items can contain trace amounts of blood. Gums can bleed when brushing your teeth, and it’s easy to cut yourself while shaving.
If you think a personal care item is safe to use if it’s been washed, think again. Even if an infected person cleans their razor or toothbrush after using it, the hepatitis virus can live on surfaces for up to three weeks. Bleach can kill the virus, but most people don’t bother dipping their nail clippers and razors in bleach after they use them.
In short, if you’re thinking about using someone’s personal care items, just don’t do it. And if you’re infected with hepatitis C or any other chronic infections, don’t share your stuff with others either.
Don’t Share Needles or Drug Preparation Equipment
People who share needles to inject drugs have a very high risk of contracting hepatitis C. If you use syringes with detachable needles, your risk goes up even more. That’s because these syringes can hold more blood products than those with fixed needles.
Drug preparation equipment can become contaminated by the virus too. If an infected person cuts themselves and then touches cookers, swabs, or any other equipment, you could become infected if you use those items.
Hepatitis C infection is common in people who snort cocaine. Snorting cocaine can cause tiny cuts to form in the nostrils, and droplets from those cuts can easily infect someone with hepatitis C.
If you have diabetes, don’t share insulin needles with anyone else. If you work in healthcare, make sure you never give a used needle to another patient. In 2009, 16 patients in an army health program contracted hepatitis C when the hospital gave them injections from the same insulin pen. Thanks to safety precautions, stories like this are fairly uncommon. Still, it only takes one mistake to cause an outbreak that could infect dozens of people.
Practice Safe Sex
You can’t spread hepatitis C through casual contact, like kissing or hugging, and it’s rare for the virus to spread via sexual contact. Still, it’s possible to get infected if you engage in rough sex or have sex with multiple partners. If you’re unsure whether a partner has hepatitis C, always use a condom with them.
Taking an STD test, such as a 10-panel STD test from Rapid STD Testing, can give you peace of mind before you have sex with a new partner.
Choose Piercing and Tattoo Parlors Carefully
If you’re thinking about getting a new body piercing or tattoo, make sure the parlor sanitizes equipment and uses fresh needles for every customer. It can be tempting to save a few bucks by getting a piercing or tattoo from a back-alley parlor, but it’s not worth the risk. Stick with licensed, reputable parlors only.
Hepatitis C doesn’t spread through breast milk, so it’s safe to breastfeed your baby if you have the virus. However, if your nipples are cracked and bleeding, the CDC recommends that you stop breastfeeding until they’ve healed. Doctors don’t fully know whether a mother can transmit hepatitis C to her child through bleeding nipples, so it’s better to err on the side of caution.
Exposure to the Hepatitis C Virus
Hepatitis C rarely causes symptoms at first, so you might not know you were exposed to it unless you get tested. Certain people have a higher risk of contracting hepatitis C than others. It’s smart to get tested for hepatitis C if you:
- Were born to a mom who had hepatitis C
- Are on long-term kidney dialysis
- Had an acupuncture session or got a tattoo and suspect that the practitioner used unsanitized needles
- Regularly come into contact with blood at work
- Received a blood transfusion (hepatitis C transmission via transfusion is rare in the United States but may be more common in other countries)
- Had an organ transplant from someone with hepatitis C
- Shared personal items, like razors and toothbrushes, with someone who might be infected
- Had unprotected sex with an infected person
If you suspect you’ve been exposed, see a doctor to get tested and start treatment as soon as you can. However, keep in mind that it can take 8 to 11 weeks for a test to detect the virus post-exposure. Even if your test comes back negative, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re in the clear. If the first test comes back negative, your doctor might perform an RNA test, which can show a positive result in as little as one week post-exposure.
Testing for Hepatitis C
To check for hepatitis C, your doctor will perform an HCV antibody test. This test involves drawing blood and looking for hepatitis C antibodies. If the result comes back positive, it means you either have hepatitis C or had it at one time. Hepatitis C antibodies remain in your blood even after the infection has left your body.
If you get a positive result, your doctor will perform another test, called a nucleic acid test, to verify whether you have an active infection. If that comes back positive too, your doctor will start you on a treatment plan.
Order Hepatitis C Testing and Stay in the Know
Now that we’ve answered the question, “Is there immunization for hepatitis C?” you might wonder what to do next if you’ve been exposed to the virus. Rapid STD Testing lets you order confidential hepatitis C testing and get fast, confidential, and accurate results.
Once you’ve ordered your test, you can get tested for hepatitis C at one of over 2,500 labs nationwide. You’ll get your results in just one to two days.
Order your hepatitis C test today at a local Rapid STD Testing clinic near you!