If you have hepatitis B or C and feel like you are treated poorly by others due to it, you are not alone. As many as half of people infected with viral hepatitis say they have suffered discrimination and one-quarter admit that family members have avoided physical contact with them after finding out they had the infection. 

Using an online survey (caveat emptor) of 1,217 people infected with hepatitis B or C in Europe and America, results  revealed that nearly half (49.6%) of those infected have suffered some kind of discrimination. Of the 94.1% who told their family they had the infection, a quarter (24.6%) said that relatives started to avoid physical contact. Furthermore, of the 73.7% who told friends about their condition, nearly half (46.9%) said they suffered discrimination and 23.8% said they were no longer invited to social events. 

"Few studies have evaluated the circumstances and the degree to which stigma and discrimination are present for those living with viral hepatitis. This is one of the first studies that listens to the voice of the patient in order to find out from them the context and intensity of stigma and discrimination that they experience and how it affects their quality of life," said Carlos Varaldo, president of Grupo Otimismo 'Support Group for People Who Live with Hepatitis'.

Of the 57.4% of those infected with viral hepatitis who told their partner about their condition, 33.3% said it affected their relationship and nearly half (42.7%) said it had an impact on their sex life.

Stigma and discrimination was also found to heavily impact the workplace. Of the 46.1% who told work colleagues, 10.1% lost their jobs. Self-image was affected in 55.8% of the cases and 41.4% said they felt ashamed of their condition. The survey indicates that 70% of health professionals looked after sufferers properly; however, 24.6% of those health professionals have maintained a certain distance from the patient and 6.9% denied care to people infected with hepatitis, the survey revealed.

"The stigma and discrimination faced by people living with hepatitis is all too often based on misunderstandings about the virus and its transmission. Not only is this damaging to people diagnosed with the disease, but it may also discourage others from getting tested and accessing treatment and support. There is a pressing need to educate the general public about hepatitis to erode this stigma and break down barriers to timely testing, treatment and care for those who need it," said Professor Markus Peck, Secretary General, European Association for the Study of the Liver.

Presented at The International Liver Congress 2015.