Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by a virus carried in the blood.
How do you get hepatitis C?
It’s usually passed on through blood to blood contact. This could happen if you:
share needles when injecting drugs
are injured by a used needle
share a razor or toothbrush that has infected blood on it
come into contact with unsterilized equipment when getting a tattoo or piercing
have a cut on your skin that comes into contact with infected blood
It can also be passed on by having sex without using a condom.
Symptoms of hepatitis C
During the early stage of infection, there may not be any symptoms.
If symptoms do develop, it’s usually within 6 months of infection, and are easily mistaken for symptoms of other illnesses. They can include:
flu-like symptoms like muscle aches and high temperature
feeling tired all the time
yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)
loss of appetite and weight loss
sickness and diarrhoea
tummy (abdominal) pain
You can only be certain you have hepatitis if you have a test.
If you have any symptoms of hepatitis C, you should visit your GP or local sexual health clinic.
Getting tested for hepatitis C
Getting tested is the only way to find out if you have hepatitis C. You can get tested at your nearest clinic, or you can order a test to do at home.
This test uses a blood sample that is sent to a laboratory to be tested. You can have this test done in a clinic or use a kit at home to take your own sample.
To take the sample at home, to see how it works.
Hepatitis C can take 12 weeks – or even as long as 6 months – to show up in a test from the time of infection. If you’re not sure when you may have been exposed to the virus, or how long you should wait, we suggest taking a test now, and another test 3 months later.
If you think you may be at higher risk of blood-to-blood contact, through sex or otherwise, we’d recommend regular testing. If you’re not sure if you’re at risk or not, talk to someone at your local sexual health clinic for advice.
How to avoid hepatitis C
Although there’s no vaccine for hepatitis C, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from the infection:
never share drug-injecting equipment (this means syringes, spoons and filters as well as needles)
don’t get tattoos or piercings from unlicensed places
don't share razors, toothbrushes or any personal care items that could have blood on them
use a condom, especially with a new partner, including for anal and oral sex
You can get free condoms at sexual health clinics.
Regular testing helps reduce the spread of STIs. We recommend you test at least once a year. If you regularly have sex with new partners, we recommend testing every 3 months.
Is hepatitis C serious?
All sexually transmitted infections can be serious if they’re not treated quickly.
Some people find their bodies can clear a hepatitis C infection in the early stages. But most people will need treatment to clear it.
If it’s not treated, chronic hepatitis can cause liver damage (cirrhosis) and increase the risk of liver cancer.
Treatment for hepatitis C
Hepatitis C can be treated with antiviral medicines designed to stop the virus from multiplying inside the body. This can limit or even stop liver damage. The sooner treatment starts after exposure to the virus, the more likely it is to work.
If the virus is cleared with treatment, it does not mean a person becomes immune. They can still get future hepatitis C infections.
Telling your partner
If you’re diagnosed with hepatitis C you should tell anyone you may have had blood to blood contact with since the time you became infected.
Sometimes this can be hard to work out, so it’s best to discuss this with your doctor. They can help you know who could have the virus without knowing it. It’s important for them to get tested.