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Jul 07

How I Got Hepatitis C (Probably)

So, if you read the last post then you’ll know how I discovered I had Hepatitis C, now I’d like to share with you how I think I got Hepatitis C.

Here in the UK, it seems that Hepatitis C is something pretty much reserved for intravenous drug users (IDUs) and people who have had blood transfusions prior to improved blood screening practises circa 1990. The UK Health Protection Agency in 2009 in their report entitled Hepatitis C in the UK had this to say:

“Estimates suggest that around 142,000 individuals aged 15-59 years were living with chronic hepatitis C (HCV) infection in England and Wales in 2003. In all countries the major risk factor for infection is injecting drug use.”

In the US the Centre For Disease Prevention reports:

“An estimated 3.2 million persons in the United States have chronic Hepatitis C virus infection. Most people do not know they are infected because they don’t look or feel sick. Some people are at increased risk for Hepatitis C, including current injection drug users (currently the most common way Hepatitis C virus is spread in the United States).”

So it would seem apparent that the greatest risk of getting Hepatitis C would be injecting drugs. For me, I have never (and would never) do this so I ruled this option out straightaway and also I have never had the need to have a blood transfusion.

After I had collected the results letter that showed I was Hep C positive I was of course worried and at this point and decided I ought to splash some cash and speak to someone properly qualified about this. As I was living in Thailand, where quality healthcare is really only available privately, I went to the best hospital in town to speak to the internationally qualified doctors there. I explained that I thought I had Hepatitis C to the Doctor whom then asked me three questions quite bluntly:

“Have you ever injected drugs?”

“Have you ever had a blood tranfusion?”

“Do you have any tatoos or piercings?”

I answered negatively to all of these. He then asked me if I was gay (caught me off guard a little), which I am not. He then thought about this for a little longer and said:

“It is extremely unlikely for you to have Hepatitis C then!”

I then showed him the results slip which I had gotten from a different (cheaper) hospital which set him straight. We then went through various areas of my past medical history until we arrived at my dental history…. and then the penny began to drop for me.

Throughout my life I have suffered from poor dental health. Probably owing to my own carelessness over the years and this has led to me having to have many dental appointments over the years in a variety of private health clinics around the world as I have lived in a few different countries.

Whilst the UK has a decent health dental health care system I had unfortunately lost my place in it due to travelling abroad so much. This meant it had often been difficult for me to find a dental surgery in the UK with spare places open for me to get the required work that I needed at various points in time (we have had shortage of qualified dentists over recent years). I remember in 2007 needing a LOT of work doing on my teeth – I am talking extensive root canal treatment on multiple teeth/parts of the gum and I was unable to get this done quickly enough in the UK.

What I decided to do was to have the work done in Thailand where I had had work done before on my teeth satisfactorily and where I was headed anyway. I used to use a series of different private dental clinics located in the main tourist areas of Bangkok and I do remember having concerns about the conditons/procedures in the clinic(s) from time to time.

One clinic I used for example appeared much more lax in comparison to how a UK dental surgery would be run. I say this because on one appointment the Dentist was actually out shopping and I was allowed to wait inside the dentist’s surgery room waiting (I was a regular!) and looking around I could see the equipment wasn’t being looked after and put away in the same manner as it would be in the UK. Equipment was left out, just sitting in position as though it had just been used and was just about to be used again. I just got the impression that things perhaps weren’t really up to standard there but why would they be!? Thailand is a developing country dumbass . I imagine dental clinics are far less regulated (and safe) when compared to developed countries….

Why didn’t I walk away at the time? Well, my teeth bloody hurt for starters! I was very ignorant and knew nothing of the potential underlying dangers of this and I just figured that the Dentist must know what they are doing. Like I said, I have had a lot of root canal treatment done in places such as this and now I believe that this is the most likely source of my Hepatitis C infection…. I should have been far more vigilant!

“If you have a blood transfusion or medical or dental treatment overseas where medical equipment is not sterilised properly, you may become infected with hepatitis C. The virus can survive in traces of blood left on equipment.” – NHS

The Hepatitis C virus can apparently stay alive on medical equipment for 4 days and it would have only taken one Hep C positive patient before me to have left a spec of blood on a piece of equipment which was then used to treat me.

The current liver sepcialist that I am seeing in the UK is adamant this is where I picked up the infection saying that:

“In Asia medical equipment that is not sterile is the biggest transmitter of Hepatitis C.”

The UK NHS web-site also clearly declares that having any type of medical procdeure done abroad puts you at an increased risk and also specifically mentions the risk from dental treatment abroad for transmitting hep C.

Another possible way of getting hepatitis C is sexually. The chances of this happening seem to be very low. The Australian government backed web-site concerning the disease doesn’t even list it as a risk factor, although they do say:

“Transmission of hepatitis C through sex is unlikely, and hepatitis C is not classified as a sexually transmissible infection (STI).”

Most other government health agencies do list unprotected sex as a risk factor for contracting hep C but go onto say that it is extremely unlikely to be gotten this way. It is commonly noted though that gay male sex is much more likely to result in transmission of hep c than heterosexual sex, hence the Doctor’s earlier question I presume.

There is a small percentage of Hepatitis C cases where no significant risk factors seem to exist and some of the more unlikely but possible ways of getting hep c are:

Through sharing razors, toothbrushes and other personal items. Any trace of blood that comes into contact with broken skin could potentially pass on the virus. It is believed that some cases result from blood traces from hairdressers equipment – scissors, combs and so on could all potentially break the skin and pass on traces of blood. It should be noted that this is of course very rare. A mother could pass on hepatitis c to her child although the risk is thought to be as low as 5%.

As for me however, I really should have taken better care of myself and had the dental work done in the UK or at one of the more expensive hospitals at the very least, especially as I was in a developing country. Instead I have just gotta face the music and get on with my hep c treatment. I hope others do not make the same mistakes as me!

Oddly enough I am back in the UK right now and have just registered with a new dental clinic (I recently moved) to get started on some more treatment that I need doing – half of a tooth dropped out recently!

Anyway that’s all for now, I’m off to brush my teeth 🙂

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