Love, Sex and Hepatitis C —By Lucinda Porter, RN
I’ve been writing about hepatitis C for twenty years, and am at risk of article redundancy. So, please bear with me devoted Healthwise readers, as I delve back into one of the most common topics relating to hepatitis C: sexual transmission. I couldn’t think of a better subject for February, the month celebrating love and chocolate.
Valentine’s Day is not the main reason I am writing about sexual transmission of hepatitis C. The inspiration came because of a disturbing email I received from someone who found me on the internet. In this article, I’ve changed some details to conceal his identity.
The man in question had a one-time extramarital affair, not long ago. After his wife found out about it, she was tested for sexually transmitted infections. The hep C test came back positive. She asked her doctor if the hep C could have come from her husband’s affair, to which the doctor stated that he was certain without a doubt that this was the source of transmission.
In the meantime, the man was waiting on his hep C test results. Clearly, he was consumed by guilt. He wanted to know if there was any possibility that his wife’s physician was wrong.
I am furious over this doctor’s opinion. There is no way that her medical provider could know the source of the transmission. Hepatitis C is generally passed when the blood of a person with the virus comes into direct contact with the blood of someone without hepatitis C virus (HCV). Hep C is rarely transmitted sexually, especially in heterosexual relationships. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/) state that sex is an inefficient means of HCV transmission. The sexual transmission risk goes up in the following circumstances:
- Having a sexually transmitted disease or HIV
- Multiple sex partners
- Rough sex
- Men who have sex with men
Although the risk of becoming infected with hepatitis C through unprotected sexual intercourse is low, it is still possible. To reduce the risk, experts recommend that people who wish to avoid acquiring or transmitting HCV, practice safer sex using a protective barrier (e.g., condoms). To keep possible blood exposure to a minimum, avoid sex play with Cupid’s arrows. (Please don’t write and tell me you use arrows in the bedroom, especially while fisting.)
It’s worth noting here that none of what I am writing about applies to hepatitis B transmission. Hep B is a completely different virus and easily passed sexually. But unlike hepatitis C, there is a vaccine against hep B. If you are at risk for hepatitis B, get immunized as soon as possible. The CDC provides excellent information about the vaccine at (www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hbv/vaccadults.htm).
And while we are on the subject, when was the last time you educated yourself about safer sex? There are many sites with good information. I’ll leave you to discover a site that delivers the information in the style that most speaks to you. Just like we all have our own sexual practice preferences, we also have our own learning preferences. Personally, I am a Planned Parenthood kind of person, which delivers more than tips on how to avoid pregnancy.
Speaking of sex, let’s get back to our guilt-ridden husband. His hepatitis C tests came back negative. This was good news for him, but it opens up lots of questions for his wife. It was easier for her to accept that her husband passed the virus on to her. Now she has to live with that question those plagues many of us when we first learn our status, “How did I get hep C and how long have I had it for?”
But these days, the diagnosis can be a little easier to bear because hep C can be cured. Granted, once you have cirrhosis, eliminating the virus doesn’t usually fix the liver damage. Still, it always feels good to shoot an arrow through hep C, and make it a thing of the past. Being cured is better than chocolate and roses any day.
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