I was infected with hepatitis C (HCV) for 25 years. Of the aches and pains associated with viral hepatitis, the ones that hurt most are not mentioned on web sites: stigma and the fear of infecting another human being. HCV hijacks the liver and hurts the entire body, but feeling shame about having it is its own misery.
Fear of transmitting HCV encumbered me more than stigma did, but both are bound to each other. Stigma surrounding HCV is complicated because it has fear-based roots, such as fear of being infected. While I was afraid to give HCV to others, they were afraid of getting it from me.
After I allayed their fears, inevitably, I would be asked, “How did you get it?” This is a complicated question because another aspect of HCV’s stigma is its association with drug use. This innocent inquiry is probing into something intensely personal.