Hepatitis C is an infectious virus (HCV) that is spread by contact with blood. Similarly, hepatitis B is an infection caused by the HBV virus. Over time, hepatitis infections can cause the liver to swell and scar (cirrhosis), and may lead to the development of liver cancer or liver failure. Hepatitis C is one of the major causes of liver transplants.
Hepatitis C is usually a chronic illness, but some patients are now able to achieve a sustained virological response (SVR), which means their HCV viral load has become undetectable. The medication that is effective in suppressing the virus in the majority of patients are ribavirin, telaprevir, boceprevir, and pegylated interferon alpha. The treatment for hepatitis C is hard on the body, and it can cause debilitating side effects, such as overwhelming fatigue, anemia, insomnia, fever, nausea or vomiting, depression, and difficulty with memory or concentration. Treatment is most successful when the disease is diagnosed early and in those that are younger and stronger. People who abuse or have abused alcohol, use drugs, smoke, or are diabetic are usually hit hardest by this disease.
Most people who contract Hepatitis B are able to fight it off, but some infected people have a chronic infection that causes cirrhosis of the liver and inflammation. If untreated, cirrhosis can lead to liver failure and the need for a liver transplant. Symptoms of a hepatitis B infection include jaundice, itching, joint and abdominal pain, fatigue, and nausea.
If you have been diagnosed with hepatitis B or C and chronic liver disease, you may qualify for Social Security disability (or SSI) benefits under the agency's official listing for liver disease. If not, you may be able to show that the symptoms of hepatitis B or C reduce your capacity to work.
If you've suffered liver damage, you may be able to meet the requirements of Social Security's listing for chronic liver disease, listing 5.05. To meet the listing for chronic liver disease, you'll have to show that your liver has been severely damaged, not just that you have a hepatitis infection. You must have had a complication such as internal bleeding, fluid in the abdominal or pleural cavity, or hepatorenal or hepatopulmonary syndrome. For information on the details, see our article on getting disability for liver disease.
Most cases of hepatitis today are unlikely to meet the listing for chronic liver disease, but if you don't meet the requirements of the liver disease listing, you may still qualify for benefits. You'll need to demonstrate that your hepatitis B or C symptoms are severe or the side effects of your medication reduce your capacity to work. Social Security will evaluate your symptoms and the restrictions your doctor has placed on your to come up with your "residual functional capacity" (RFC). Your RFC will indicate what type of work you can still do, if any.
Common symptoms of hepatitis, such as nausea and vomiting, extreme fatigue, and muscle and joint aches, make it difficult for many suffering from this disease to function at work, regardless of their serum levels. If you need to rest during the day, if you don't sleep well at night, and you have trouble completing household tasks, tell your doctor so that he or she can include these details in your medical record. Social Security will include these limitations when it assesses how much work you can do.
For example, if your doctor says you can sit or stand only for four hours per day due to fatigue and anemia, and includes this in your medical records, you might get an RFC that limits you to sedentary work. Or, if your medication makes it difficult to focus or follow instructions, you may get a mental RFC that limits you to unskilled work. After coming up with your RFC, Social Security will look at your prior job skills, your education level, and your age, and will then decide if there are any jobs you can do or if you qualify for disability due to your reduced functional capacity.