What is Hepatitis C Virus?
Hepatitis C Virus is a virus that can damage the liver. Unlike hepatitis A and B there is no vaccine to protect against hepatitis c.
How could I get Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is carried in the blood. The virus is mainly spread through contact with the blood of a person who has Hepatitis C. You can't catch it through everyday contact such as holding hands, kissing and hugging, or through sharing toilets, plates and cups and kitchen utensils.
Hepatitis C is passed in the following ways.
By sharing equipment for injecting drugs, even if you only did this once or twice or a long time ago. Needles and syringes are the highest risk, but other drug injecting equipment such as spoons filters and water could also carry the infection if they are contaminated with blood from some one who has the infection. Through a blood transfusion before 1991, or blood products like clotting agents before 1986. All blood in the UK is now screened for hepatitis c.
Hepatitis C can be passed on in the following ways
From a mother with hepatitis C virus to her baby before or during the birth. Through unprotected sex with some one who has the virus. By having a tattoo an ear piercing a body piercing or acupuncture with equipment that is not sterile. During medical and dental treatment abroad in countries where hep c virus is common and equipment is not properly sterilised. By sharing razors or toothbrushes which have bee contaminated with blood from someone who has the virus.
SEE YOUR DOCTOR OR NURSE IF YOU THINK YOU COULD HAVE COME IN TO CONTACT WITH THE VIRUS IN ANY OF THESE WAYS
What are the symptoms?
Most people who have the Hepatitis C virus have no signs or symptoms at all for many years. But even if you have no symptoms at all for many years you can still pass the virus on.
How might the virus effect me in the long term?
Around one in four people who become infected with hepatitis c will get rid of the virus naturally. However, most people who become infected will have it for a very log time. This may effect them in many different ways: Some will stay well throughout life and about one in five may develop severe liver damage after many years. Cirrhosis can lead to liver cancer or liver failure.
Where can I get a test?
Your doctor will be able to test you for Hepatitis C.
What if the test result is negative?
This probably means you have never been in contact with the Hepatitis C virus. However, it can take up to 3 months for your body to react to the virus, so the test may not be positive if you have been exposed to the virus recently. Your doctor may advise another test at a later date.
What if the test result is positive?
The result will tell if you have bee infected with the virus in the past. I t will not tell if you still have the virus, you may need another test to find this out, you may then need to see a liver specialist.
Is Hepatitis C treatment available?
New treatments are becoming available. A form of drug therapy that cures half the people treated includes a weekly injection of a interferon drug called Pegasys and oral capsules taken daily called ribavirin. New drugs Telaprevir and a similar one called Broceprevir are being offered to patients who have previouly had treatment and had not responded. Both these new drugs are taken along with Pegasys and Ribavirin making it a 3 fold drug combination therapy. Your specialist will discuss the best form of treatment with you.
What can I do to help myself if I am positive for the virus?
If you have the virus stop drinking alcohol, this is the single most important thing you can do to reduce further damage to your liver.
How do people avoid becoming infected or if they have the virus passing it on?
Don't inject drugs. Never share drug injecting equipment. If you are considering having piercings, tattoos or acupuncture make sure all the equipment such as needles and ink pots are fully sterilised. If you or you partner have the virus there is a small risk it could be passed on during sex. Condoms reduce this risk. Do not share razors or toothbrushes as they could have blood on them.