This article is taken from the SOS Hepatitis brochure “Being Hepatitis # 2: Living with Hepatitis C”.
You are infected with the hepatitis C. It does not necessarily mean that you are sick, or that you will ever be. Nevertheless, the announcement of the diagnosis is a shock. A lot of questions jostle in your head. Why me? How did I catch this virus? Can I contaminate my surroundings? Will I have to take medicine? Is it serious? Can we cure hepatitis C? Should I change my habits?
I do not really know about the disease
After the emotion you feel after discovering your infection with the virus (HCV), it is very important to get answers to the questions you ask yourself. Establishing a relationship of trust with your doctor is essential for the future: to do so, avoid putting yourself in a childish position. You have the right to get all the explanations you want. If you need additional information, your doctor should refer you to other facilities.
How to prepare for your visit
Before consultation, note on a small notebook the questions you want to ask. Even if it’s not always easy, try to tackle the issues that concern you without apprehension. This may not happen in a day, but gradually you can install an interactive relationship with your doctor.
Who to talk to and how?
Hepatitis C is still a difficult subject to talk about. Being well informed before talking to our loved ones helps to present the situation clearly, not to worry too much about others on our state of health and to anticipate possible negative reactions. We have learned over time to adopt different attitudes according to our interlocutors.
You do not have to talk about it if you don’t want to. However, for your personal balance, it is recommended to entrust yourself to at least one person. Look for support around you: it’s not necessarily an intimate.
Can I contaminate my surroundings?
- The hepatitis C virus is transmitted through blood. So there is no risk in everyday life. You can kiss, touch, and use common toilets and washing machines. It is useless to wash one’s dishes in a particular way.
The hepatitis C virus cannot be spread by saliva, cough, nor sweat.
- In contrast, avoid sharing items that may be in contact with the blood, especially toiletries: razors, nail clippers, tweezers, toothbrushes, dental equipment.
- For feminine intimate hygiene, do like all other women: put your used towels in well-sealed bags and dispose of them in the trash.
- Drug users should never share their injection or “sniff” equipment (syringes, cottons, spoons, straws, etc.).
No panic in case of a small injury: if a person’s skin is in contact with our blood, there is no risk of contamination. For the virus to be transmitted, it needs a “gateway”: when the skin is intact, it acts as a barrier.
To be perfectly calm if a loved one is treating you, you can suggest that you wear gloves. Clean the wound with a disinfectant and cover with a bandage. It is advisable to notify your dentist and other health professionals (nurse, acupuncturist, etc.) with whom you may be in contact. If informing these people is a problem for you, do not feel guilty: know that caregivers must apply the same precautionary measures to all patients.
Tips and tricks
Get used to separating your personel toiletries from others in your household, especially if you have children.
Do I need to be more careful in my sexual life?
The risk of sexual transmission of HCV is very low. Simply protect yourself in situations where blood contact is possible: use condoms during periods of menstruation (if you are a woman contaminated), in case of genital infections (eg herpes), of lesions of the sexual organs. Outside of these situations, when we live in a “stable” relationship, we have sex without a condom.
If we have multiple sexual partners, condoms are always recommended, primarily to protect themselves from infection by other infections (hepatitis B, HIV / AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases).
Can I be pregnant?
Pregnancy is not contraindicated for women with hepatitis C virus except during treatment. The risk of transmission of HCV from mother to baby, less than 5%, would be at the time of delivery.
You may want to consider HCV treatment before conception to try to eliminate the virus or reduce the risk of transmission. In case the baby is still contaminated, you should know that the evolution of hepatitis C in a newborn is benign.
A child born to a mother with HCV should be given specific medical care during her first year.
Hepatitis C coinfection and AIDS virus
For future mothers infected with both hepatitis C and HIV / AIDS, the risk of HCV transmission to the baby is greater – it would be around 20%.
Do I need to change my habits?
Most doctors tell you not to change your eating habits. In theory, no medical data justifies a specific diet, unless you are overweight.
But if your eating behavior is a bit anarchic, take the opportunity to change it. The rules that benefit everyone are even better for you. It is necessary to watch over your food balance, avoid excess fat and sugar, favor vegetables, fruits, starchy foods, fish, white meats, dairy products.
Listen, follow your desires. Depending on the stage of your illness, you may not want to eat a particular category of food. Our motto: not to deprive oneself, but not to force oneself either.
This is an important subject. The specialists are rather adamant: you must remove all alcohol consumption. In practice, the problem is complex.
Ask yourself first about your relationship with alcohol: is it essential? Do you seem to be able to do without, or reduce your consumption?
You should know that the evolution of hepatitis C is four times faster for excessive drinkers, that is to say those who consume more than 20 grams of alcohol per day. This equates to three glasses of wine for a man, two for a woman. If you are more or less dependent on alcohol, or if you feel only fragile, talk to your doctor.
Tips and tricks
To assess your alcohol intake,
ask yourself these four questions:
- Have you ever felt the need to reduce your consumption of alcoholic beverages?
- Has your entourage ever commented on your consumption?
- Have you ever felt that you are drinking too much?
- Have you ever needed alcohol in the morning to feel good? If you answered yes twice, it is better to talk to your doctor
If you are an occasional and moderate drinker, the implementation of a new behavior depends of course on your state of health. In case of severe hepatitis, alcohol must be prohibited. In other cases, we must avoid excesses. But, unless absolutely medical contraindication, we can drink a glass of wine a day during a meal. A fasting aperitif is more difficult for us, as well as strong alcohols, which are best avoided. Do not drink does not mean to cut off all usability. Do not refuse invitations on the grounds that you do not consume alcohol. It is very important to continue going out, to maintain a social life.
Tips and tricks
At a party or dinner, your friends may encourage you to drink, especially if they are unaware of your HCV infection. You do not always want to justify yourself and explain why you refuse. Some of us have found ways to make life easier. Fill your glass half with wine, and drink it very slowly. During this time, nobody will serve you again. You can also replace champagne with sparkling water, punch with orange juice: you will avoid questions.
Hepatitis C can disrupt saliva production, which has a protective role for teeth. Dry mouth has an influence on the condition of the gums. In addition, treatments for hepatitis C are often harmful to teeth. You must therefore take dental hygiene seriously to prevent these problems, and have a very regular follow-up.
What can disturb my daily life?
This is a recurring phenomenon for you. It is important to talk to your doctor, who must make a diagnosis of fatigue: it may be related to HCV, stress or some other cause. A tiredness present in the morning can be one of the symptoms of a depressive state.
For many of us, fatigue spreads throughout the day. Depending on the time of the illness, it can lead to an inability to work or to perform domestic tasks. Sometimes this fatigue can become really disabling, which is not necessarily understood by those around you and can trigger conflicts within your families. We must accept the fact of being tired and try to manage it every day: explain to loved ones, get help, do not hesitate to ask for a sick leave to his doctor, arrange his days.
If you have to be efficient at a specific time, it is better to have some rest. Enjoy the weekend to sleep, but do not let fatigue invade your life: spare time for leisure, devoted to activities you love.
Tips and tricks
Short sleep times in the day are beneficial. A nap of twenty minutes may be enough to feel better. Another piece of advice to relax: take a shower by massaging the cervical and lumbar areas.
The quality of life of a hepatitis is much related to his psychological experience. The importance of anxiety often depends on the lack of dialogue and support from the family and the lack of information on the course of the disease.
Fatigue and recovery difficulties also affect morale. Silence is the worst solution. We need to talk. This allows you to relativize, to express your anxieties, to share your problems with others. You can find help from a professional (psychologist, psychiatrist), an association or a group of speech. Above all, do not stay alone with your questions.
Writing : Marianne Bernède
Scientific validation : Pr Pierre Opolon, Dr Pascal Melin, Dr Marie-Noëlle Hilleret