Hepatitis simply does not get as much press as HIV/AIDs or even STDs like gonorrhea or chlamydia. However, it is still an important issue and can constitute a major threat to men’s health in particular. Here’s what men should know about how this disease is transmitted and how to prevent it from happening to them.
So, what is Hep C?
According to Healthline, Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver which is brought into the body through contact with the blood of an infected person. In other words, you can’t get Hep C from casual contact with another person (such as hugging or kissing). While some people contract this disease from a blood transfusion, or surgery, or from the sharing of needles in order to do drugs, most people get the disease from sex with an infected partner.
This disease can be acute (meaning it lasts just a short while and resolves itself) or chronic (meaning a patient can have symptoms for years.) Many people who have Hep C do not even know they have it because it can take up to 10 years for symptoms to appear.
Symptoms can include:
- Yellowish or orangey skin (called jaundice)
- Pain in stomach/abdominal area
- Sore, achy muscles
- Digestive problems like nausea, heartburn, loss of appetite and diarrhea
- Dark urine (even if you are drinking enough water)
- Unexplained, recurrent fever
- Clay-colored stools
If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to go into your doctor to be tested. Simple bloodwork can determine if you are positive for Hep C, though some doctors also may want to do a biopsy of your liver to see just how much damage has been done.
So, why should men care about this disease in particular?
The bad news first: aka why guys should worry:
- First, for unknown reasons, the Hepatitis Central site has shown men’s bodies do not fight off the Hep C virus as well as women’s bodies. They are also more likely to get cirrhosis (or permanent scarring) of the liver and are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors such as sharing needles or razors with sexual partners.
- According to AIDS Map, a UK site dedicated to educating people on sexually transmitted diseases, guys who live together—whether they are romantic partners or not—can transmit Hep C to one another by the sharing personal items like razors or toothbrushes…since these can contain small amounts of blood from shaving or oral care.
- AIDS Map also notes gay, bisexual men and men who have sex with other men (MSM) have a greater risk of contracting Hep C due to the fact the delicate tissues around the anus may tear during sex and subsequently, bleed–even small amounts of blood are enough to transmit the Hep C virus. Men in this group who have multiple sexual partners, use drugs in order to increase sexual stamina and/or who share sex toys all run a higher risk of Hep C transmission.
The good news: what can be done to prevent Hep C in men?
The above probably sounded pretty grim, but there is light on the horizon.
According to health researchers in the UK, who write for the AIDS Map site, new therapies based on interferon may help to revolutionize the way Hep C is treated. Updated information about computer modeling showed if 80 percent of newly-infected Hep C patients are treated with this therapy within a year of being infected—and if 20% of those with chronic Hep C are treated each year—then this would reduce the incidence of Hep C by half; that the prevalence of the disease among MSMs would fall below three percent.
In short, the impact of this therapy could be incredibly significant.
More good news: it has been shown safe sex practices such as wearing a condom each time for use during oral, anal or vaginal sex and staying in a committed, monogamous relationship can help to reduce the risk of Hep C transmission. These are lifestyle choices anyone can fit into their sexual lives to keep themselves safe.
In short, Hep C, while not receiving as much media attention as diseases like AIDS, does constitute a threat to men’s health, particularly those who are gay, bisexual or who have sex with other men. However, a combination of new treatments and good, old-fashioned safe sex habits can have a significant impact on the risks of Hep C in American men.
The role of men is changing in the 21st century. Want to keep up? Get the best stories from The Good Men Project delivered straight to your inbox, here.
Photo credit: Getty Images