Hepatitis C

Shafinaaz Kamrul

You could be at risk of contracting Hepatitis C, a viral infection that causes serious damage to the lungs, if you have recently pierced any part of your body, shared body jewelry, been sexually active, shared needles while “shooting” drugs or simply gone to your workplace, depending on where you work.

This is what was proven by a recent survey at the Case Western Reserve University, which cited from American College of Gastroenterology Annual Meeting that 75 percent of all undergraduate students had one or more risk factors of contracting this disease.

“That scares me because I have a belly piercing and I got it done from a shop in my neighborhood,” said Tina Iguchi, 18, a student at Santa Clara University.

“I don’t remember much about what they used and how I got it done except I was scared and had my eyes closed half the time.”

A lot of the Pierce College students had the same story to share.

“I did not really think much about diseases when I got my tattoo done a few months back,” said Joey Lee, 21. “I mean, it was more about which place would cost me less but do the job well.”

A common way to contract the disease depends on the particular tattoo artist and if he sterilizes his needle properly or not before reusing it.

“Hepatitis C can also be passed on by people who donate blood because there is about a month’s lag time between exposure to the disease and getting Hepatitis C,” said Pierce College Nurse Beth Benne. “People may be donating blood during this time.”

The virus is contracted depending on a person’s lifestyle and their immune system. For example, if a person drinks a lot and is already suffering from liver damage he may be at a higher risk of contracting the virus than another person.

“Contracting Hepatitis C thorough sexual partners is a lower risk, although condoms should always be used,” said Benne. “It is not considered to be a sexually transmitted disease as Hepatitis B.”

“The research must have been conducted because of the increasing number of piercing and tattooing that young people these days are going out and finding,” added Benne. “It is a concern if they are going to a reputable shop or not.”

Over the years, Pierce College has diagnosed a couple of people with Hepatitis, whether it is Hepatitis C or not.

“We have had some students come in with an infected piercing or an tattoo,” commented Benne. “It depends on the practices of the artists the students go to and on how much they think about the risks.”

The Pierce faculty and staff are also at risk of this disease that seems to be so easy to contract if we are not careful.

When the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) was determining which faculty and staff members are at risk of this potentially deadly disease, they found out it was mostly the people working at the health center and nursing teachers who worked with their students at hospitals. No matter what precautions they take they were always dealing with bodily fluids.

“We always take precautions as wearing gloves,” said Benne. “Unless you have been tested we take it as anybody is capable of having any disease.”

The other department with a high risk of contracting this disease is the Plant and Facilities Department. This was because they clean the campus, and have their hands in the trash. A lot of times there have been cases when people have discarded their needles inappropriately and this puts the workers at great risk.

“The latex gloves cannot stop needles,” said Benne. “Sometimes even the thicker ones can’t and the needle would go right through.”

People may not think twice but their actions may risk the lives of the people who clean up after them.

As of now, there is no vaccine that can prevent a person from contracting Hepatitis C, as there is to prevent Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B.

This disease can, however, be prevented by taking precautions regarding personal hygiene.

The Web site for the Center of Disease Control and Prevention said sharing personal care items as razors and toothbrushes is never a good idea.

A person should always consider the risks of getting a tattoo or piercing and make sure that it is done in a proper and hygienic way.

Drug abusers are recommended to enroll in treatment programs, and not “shoot” drugs. If, however, that is not possible then they should not share needles or syringes.

It is also recommended to be vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B.

According to a fact sheet for National Center for HIV, STD and Tuberculosis Prevention, “Hepatitis C can, in the long term, lead to a person needing a liver transplant or even death from chronic lung disease.”

“The common symptoms of the disease are jaundice, fatigue, dark urine, abdominal pain, loss of appetite and nausea,” according to the Web site for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This is not very reliable, however, because the same website also stated that 80% of the people have no signs or symptoms.

People at risk of the HCV can also be at risk of hepatitis B virus (HBV) and HIV.

The cost of being tested at the Student Health Center at Pierce for Hepatitis C is $9.

The school nurse can be reached to set up an appointment by calling 818-710-4270 or by walking up to the Student Health Center at the Campus Center.