Seven Myths About Hepatitis C

There are many myths about hepatitis C

The Hepatitis C virus.
The Hepatitis C virus. SCIEPRO/Getty Images

I corresponded with a hepatitis advocate who shared seven common myths she has discovered through her education efforts. They're worth noting because many people think some of these are true. Are you one of them?

1. You've Been Vaccinated for Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C does not have an approved vaccine for use in the United States. There is a vaccine for hepatitis A and B but not for hepatitis C. Since some of the hepatitis viruses have vaccines, and others don't, I can understand how it's difficult to keep them straight.

Hepatitis C currently infects about 170 million people worldwide, so a vaccine would be a public health blessing. The good news is that scientists are working on developing a hepatitis C vaccine, so I hope there will be one soon.

2. Hepatitis C Is an STD

A sexually transmitted disease (STD) is, perhaps obviously, a disease that is spread by having sex. Hepatitis C is a disease of the liver, not of the sexual organs. While it is technically possible to spread hepatitis C by having sex, this doesn't happen very often, and usually happens through direct contact of infected blood.

3. Alcohol Causes Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus, not by drinking alcohol. There is a different type of hepatitis called alcoholic hepatitis that is linked with drinking alcohol, but it's a very complex association. Someone who drinks alcohol in moderation might develop alcoholic hepatitis, while very few people who drink excessive amounts might develop alcoholic hepatitis.

The confusion could be that chronic hepatitis, regardless of the cause, often leads to the same complication -- cirrhosis -- which could lead to liver failure. While the results can be similar, the causes are very different.

4. Herbs and Homeopathic Remedies Cure Hepatitis C

Despite what some advertisements lead you to believe, there is no alternative or conventional cures for hepatitis C.

Currently, the best medical science can offer is a 50 to 80 percent chance that the virus will be undetectable after treatment with a combination of two drugs, interferon and ribavirin. This is called SVR, or sustained virologic response.

5. People with Hepatitis C Are Alcoholics

Though many people with hepatitis C have the additional problem of alcoholism, this is certainly not true for everyone with hepatitis C. Saying that is true is like saying that all people with heart disease eat too many fried foods, and all people with diabetes are overweight. These statements simply aren't accurate and actually harm public health advocacy because they mislead people. Everyone should know the real way hepatitis C is spread -- through direct contact with infected blood.

6. People with Hepatitis C Use Drugs

Just as one can't generalize a link between having hepatitis C and being an alcoholic, it is untrue that everyone with the disease has the additional problem of drug addiction. Using drugs is a risk factor for exposure to viral hepatitis, and half of all new cases of hepatitis C are drug users.

But what about the other half? Labeling people with hepatitis C as drug users is harmful because it prevents people from understanding that anyone is at risk for hepatitis C if they come into direct contact with infected blood.

7. Hepatitis A Leads to Hepatitis B, Which Then Leads to Hepatitis C

There are five hepatitis viruses named after a letter: A, B, C, D and E. Each one is a separate virus that causes a distinct disease. If someone had hepatitis A and now has hepatitis C, they were infected with two different viruses. One virus doesn't change into another virus. In fact, the viruses differ in structure, exposure, and disease.

They do have one thing in common, however: they all infect the liver.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. July 10, 2008. Viral Hepatitis.

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