Hepatitis C

Is a virus that can infect and damage the liver.

How is it passed on?

Hepatitis C is usually transmitted through blood to blood contact. Examples include:

  • Sharing needles when injecting drugs and through sharing other drug equipment
  • Use of unsterilized equipment when getting a tattoo/body piercing
  • Sharing razors or toothbrushes that are contaminated with infected blood.

It can be transmitted through sex, although this is very rare and can be prevented by using a condom.

Symptoms

During the early stage of infection there may not be any symptoms.

If symptoms do develop at this stage it is usually within the first six months after infection and they can be easily mistaken for another condition.

Symptoms can include:

You can only be certain you have Hepatitis if you have a test.

Long term effects

Some people can clear the virus at the early stage of infection. However, four out of five people will not be able to fight off the infection. This leads to a long term infection called chronic Hepatitis.

Hepatitis C can lead to problems with your liver, including scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), often years after catching the infection.

Treatment

Hepatitis C can be treated with antiviral medicines designed to stop the virus from multiplying inside the body and to prevent liver damage. The sooner treatment begins after exposure to the Hepatitis C virus, the more likely it is to succeed.

If the virus is cleared with treatment, you are not immune to future infections of Hepatitis C.

Telling your partner

If you are diagnosed with Hepatitis C, you should tell anyone who you may have had blood to blood contact with, or unprotected sex with, since you became infected. In some cases this may be hard to work out, so it is best to discuss the risks for any contacts with your doctor. They may have the virus without knowing it, so it is important for them to get tested.

How to avoid Hepatitis C:

  • Never share any drug-injecting equipment with other people (not just needles, but also syringes, spoons and filters)
  • Don’t get tattoos or piercings from unlicensed places
  • Don't share razors, toothbrushes or towels that might be contaminated with blood
  • Use a condom, especially with a new partner, for anal and oral sex.

Vaccinations

There is no vaccination for Hepatitis C.

Questions?

Test results are most accurate six to ten weeks after exposure. However, tests for Hepatitis C often can't distinguish between recent and previous infection.

Antiviral medication usually acts to prevent a virus from multiplying.

No, not in men or women.

They will be able to tell if you have symptoms of infection but not if you don’t. However it is important that you tell your partner since you may pass or have passed the infection to them.

Go to a sexual health clinic if you have unusual symptoms that persist for more than a few days. You can also get tested for Hepatitis C at your GP or a drug treatment service. The clinician will take a simple blood test.