How to Talk to a Friend About Hepatitis C

Living with any chronic illness can be challenging. Not only are you faced with intense and frightening medical issues, but often people feel there is a social stigma associated with the illness. It can be difficult to speak openly about living with the disease.

People with Hepatitis C may worry about how their friends and family will react when they learn about the illness. Sometimes people choose to isolate themselves instead of opening up about the truth. They feel anxious about possibly being judged and they are scared about how this will impact their relationships. It is important to remember that you are not alone. The Hepatitis C virus affects people from all socioeconomic backgrounds.

It is up to you who you choose to tell about your illness, but it is important to remember that anyone at risk should know so that can be tested. This includes past and present sexual partners, your spouse, your family and anyone who may come into contact with the virus through your blood. Being that hepatitis C is a bloodborne virus, chances are low that they have been infected but it is best if they can make the decision to get tested if they choose, in order to start treatment as early as possible if they test positive.

Revealing your illness is a good choice for their welfare, but it is equally for your benefit. Coping with Hepatitis C can be hard and you will need your support system of family and friends to help you during this crucial period. These conversations can be arduous. It is natural for people to have a lot of questions about the illness. They may be frightened- for themselves, for you, and for the future.

You should prepare for these conversations and the questions and feelings they may have. Some things you can explain are:

  • Thanks to advances in modern medicine, Hepatitis C is curable.
  • Chronic Hepatitis C does not progress quickly in most patients.
  • Symptoms are often mild to nonexistent and could take decades (if ever) to be revealed.
  • Hepatitis C is a bloodborne infectious disease, so transmitting the illness to other members of your household is very uncommon.
  • You cannot spread the disease through kissing, hugging, coughing, sneezing, or by sharing glass, plates or utensils. Casually contacting someone with the virus does not lead to infection. Despite the low risk of infection, household members are encouraged to take a blood test as a precaution. It is important to test children of a mother who is positive for Hepatitis C, as it is common to spread the virus during childbirth.
  • Sexual transmission in relationships that are long-term, monogamous and heterosexual is uncommon, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) do not recommend changes in sexual practices for these couples when a partner is diagnosed with Hepatitis C. The risks of sexual transmission do increase with the additional number of sexual partners you have, and your sexual life style. If you have a partner who has the Hepatitis C virus and you are concerned about the possibility of becoming infected, please speak with them. If you feel it is important to consider safe sex methods or changing something in your sexual relationship, you should be clear with your partner about your concerns.
  • The treatment currently available for the Hepatitis C virus is a combination of oral medication and life-style changes to support the treatment. The side effects of the medication can be different for everyone and may include diarrhea, rashes, insomnia, headaches, itching, body aches, problems with concentration and fatigue. Usually the side effects diminish with time once the treatment has been completed. For friends and family of Hepatitis C patients, the psychological and social side effects may prove more difficult to handle.

It is important to be open and honest with the family and friends that are closest to you. Be sure to have good information on hand before you have this deep conversations- you will need to provide emotional and informational support. It is also wise to consider when and how you choose to disclose the details of your illness and plan the disclosure with everyone’s comfort in mind. Hopefully you all will find mutual comfort to go through this challenging time together.