Hepatitis C is a viral infection of the liver that is spread through contact with blood-to-blood contact. Most people do not develop symptoms while they have an acute infection, or when it progresses to a chronic infection. Symptoms often only present only after there has been serious liver damage. Therefore, many people do not know they have Hepatitis C, increasing the risk of spreading the disease and allowing to progress to the extent that it causes cirrhosis (liver damage).

Symptoms of hepatitis C include:

  • flu-like symptoms, including tiredness, a fever, and general aches and pains
  • loss of appetite
  • feeling tired all the time
  • tummy (abdominal) pain
  • feeling and being sick (nauseous)

How can I get it?

Hepatitis C is a viral infection of the liver that is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact. One of the most common way that Hepatitis C is transmitted is through unsafe injection practices for intravenous drug users (including those using anabolic steroids). It can also be transmitted through sexual contact, but this is much less common. It cannot be spread through skin-to-skin contact, such as hugging, holding hands, kissing, or by sharing cups, or cutlery.

What are the risk factors?

Hepatitis C can be spread through blood-to-blood contact with people who have Hepatitis C. This is more common in parts of the world where Hepatitis C infection is more common. Risk factors include:

  • sharing needles
  • having unprotected sex (although this method of transmission is less common)
  • getting a tattoo or piercing with equipment that has not been properly sterilized
  • sharing razors or toothbrushes

What are the symptoms?

  • tiredness
  • general aches and pains
  • a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • a general sense of feeling unwell
  • loss of appetite
  • feeling and being sick
  • diarrhoea
  • tummy (abdominal) pain
  • yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • dark urine and pale, grey-coloured poo

Even when Hepatitis C progresses into a chronic infection, there are often no symptoms for decades until it has caused liver damage. It is important to get tested for Hepatitis C if you suspect that you have been exposed, in order to get access to treatment that can help prevent future liver damage.

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Diagnosis

A blood test is used to test for Hepatitis C. Many people do not exhibit any symptoms, so it is important to get tested if you think that you may have been exposed to Hepatitis C, in order to prevent the spread of the infection to other individuals. It is recommended that people who may be at increased risk of infection are screened for infection.

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Populations at increased risk of infection include:

  • people who inject drugs
  • recipients of infected blood products or invasive procedures in health-care facilities with inadequate infection control practices
  • children born to mothers infected with HCV
  • people with sexual partners who are HCV-infected
  • people with HIV infection
  • prisoners or previously incarcerated persons
  • people who have used intracranial drugs
  • people who have had tattoos or piercings.

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Treatment

Hepatitis C does not always need treatment as the body’s immune system is often able to fight the infection on its own.Between 15-45% of people infected with Hepatitis C spontaneously clear the infection within 6 months without any treatment. However, of the remaining 55-85% will develop a chronic infection that could eventually lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver).

Until recently, treatment for Hepatitis C involved two drugs, pegylated interferon, a medication that encourages the immune system to attack the virus, and ribavirin, a medication that stops the virus from reproducing. They are usually taken as a weekly injection, for up to 48 weeks.

Drugs called Direct Antiviral Agents (DAAs) have been developed recently that allow more effective treatment, in less time and with fewer side effects than previous treatments. These drug are usually only taken for around 8-48 weeks, but that depends on the type of Hepatitis C you have, the exact drug you are taking and the severity of your condition.

Depending on the type of Hepatitis C you have, there is a 70-90% chance that you can be cured. IT is important to keep in mind however that you are not immune to re-infection and can contract Hepatitis C again.

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