What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is an infection with the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV). Hepatitis C often does not cause any symptoms. Many people with Hepatitis C are unaware of their status. About 75% of these people go on to develop a chronic form of the condition. By the time they become ill and seek help, considerable damage may already have been done to their liver. This can be prevented if the person is diagnosed earlier.
In the cases of chronic infection, the immune system has been unable to clear the virus, which remains in the body unless medical treatment is received. Many of these people have intermittent symptoms of fatigue or no symptoms at all, but liver damage may still be occuring.
How is it transmitted?
HCV can be passed on through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral intercourse, as well as body to body contact. The virus is also transmitted through blood-to-blood contact and one common route is through the sharing of needles, often when injecting recreational drugs. Nearly half of intravenous drug users with Hepatitis C have contracted the infection in this way.
Similarly, it can be caught by having a tattoo or body piercing with equipment that has not been properly sterilised, as well as sharing toothbrushes and razors.
HCV can also be contracted from medical treatment in developing countries, blood transfusions, or from mother to baby during pregnancy and/ or birth. Sexual transmission is rare in monogamous heterosexual couples, but there is an increased risk of infection for gay men and the HIV positive community.
How will I know if I have it?
There are often no symptoms at first, hence the importance of regular testing, particularly if you feel you may have been exposed. Symptoms, if they occur, can include feeling tired, aching limbs, digestive problems and brain fog.
You can get a Hepatitis C test with Better2Know, either on its own or as part of a comprehensive sexual health screen. A blood sample is required for the test, and the same sample may also be used for other STD tests. Results are available within a few days of your sample being received in the laboratory.
The virus can be treated with a combination of drugs, of which some of the newer ones have been shown to be upyo 100% effective. Some strains or genotypes of the HCV are more likely to respond than others. Even if the virus is not completely cleared, the treatments can reduce inflammation and scarring of the liver. Many people also find that alternative lifestyle approaches can help deal with Hepatitis C symptoms and improve their quality of life.
People with a chronic HCV infection should be monitored by a liver specialist.
Untreated Hepatitis C infections increase the risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. It can also cause chronic inflammation of the liver (fibrosis), cirrhosis, and may even lead to liver cancer and death.
If you are pregnant, the risk of transmission to your baby can be minimised by your midwife, who will be able to advise you.
Around one in five people with a chronic condition will develop cirrhosis of the liver within 20 years.