How to Survive Prison: The Dangers of Hepatitis C in Prison
Guarding Your Health
Nobody knows just how many of America's 2.2 million people in jail or prison have hepatitis C (HCV), the most dangerous and deadly type of hepatitis. But according to the National HCV Prison Coalition, it is estimated that between 10% and 33% of all America's prisoners may be infected, compared with only 1–2% of the general population.
The most dangerous aspect of hepatitis C is that more than half of the infected prisoners don't know they have it. This disease goes by nicknames such as "the silent killer" or "the silent epidemic." Hepatitis C can lie dormant for as long as 20 to 30 years before symptoms start showing. But once hepatitis C settles in and becomes chronic, many of these warning signs go away.
What Is Hepatitis C?
All hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. Liver testing will reveal hepatitis infection and usually identify the strain. Long-term hepatitis C not only leads to liver cancer but can also cause cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver, as normal liver cells are replaced by connective tissue.
Twenty percent of people who get hepatitis C will clear it out of their body naturally, probably without even knowing they had it. But, without treatment, 25% of patients diagnosed with hepatitis C will suffer liver failure or liver cancer.
Hepatitis C Symptoms
Symptoms include joint aches, loss of appetite, dark urine, fever, yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice), stomach pain, and vomiting.
How is Hepatitis C Spread?
Hepatitis C is a bloodborne infection. It is most commonly spread by:
- Sharing personal care items such as razors, toothbrushes, fingernail files, or clippers, and pierced earrings.
- Sharing drug paraphernalia.
- Using shared, unsterilized tattoo equipment, including the ink.
- Having unprotected sex.
- Having received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992.
Hepatitis C Is Not Spread By:
- Sneezing or coughing.
- Kissing or hugging. (Although hepatitis C has been found in saliva, it is not transmitted that way. It is transmitted only by having blood-to-blood contact.)
- Casual contact (handshakes).
- Eating prepared food. (Even if someone who has hepatitis C cuts himself and drips blood into the food, it is unlikely that anyone eating the food will get infected. The enzymes in the digestive track will destroy or deactivate the virus.)
- Sharing eating utensils or eating the same food. (Hepatitis C is transmitted by contaminated blood directly entering your bloodstream, not your stomach.)