You’ve probably heard too many happy hours take a toll on your liver, but excessive drinking isn’t the only thing that puts your liver at risk. The other real threat to the liver is the common (and often silent) hepatitis C virus.
The main culprit? Exposure to infected blood. “Most people today become infected by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs,” says Paul Knoepflmacher, MD, a clinical instructor of medicine at The Mount Sinai Hospital.
But not using drugs doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Hepatitis C was spread decades ago through blood transfusions and organ transplants, prior to the start of stricter screening in 1992. Because of this, the CDC recommends getting tested for hepatitis C for all people born between 1945 and 1965 (i.e. “baby boomers”). People in this age group are five times more likely to have hepatitis C than other adults. Learn more about why baby boomers are prone to hepatitis C here.
These are the risk factors for hepatitis C, according to the CDC.
Injection drug users (including former users)
Recipients of blood transfusions or organs before July 1992
Patients with long-term hemodialysis
Those who work with needles (like healthcare workers)
People who are HIV-positive
Infants of mothers with hepatitis C
While you can’t spread hep C through kissing, sneezing, or sharing forks, you could possibly spread the virus by sharing items that contain someone’s blood, such as a razor or toothbrush. It’s also possible to spread hepatitis C through sexual contact with an infected person, but this form of transmission is less common.
If you are considered at risk for hepatitis C, learn more about symptoms of hepatitis C and lifestyle habits to protect your liver. And most importantly, talk to your doctor about getting tested for hepatitis C.
“Hepatitis C can be serious,” says Dr. Knoepflmacher, “but now we have great treatments that can cure the virus.”