What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C (HCV) is a virus that can infect the liver. If left untreated, it can cause serious and potentially life-threatening damage to the liver. About 75% of people infected with Hepatitis C go on to develop a chronic condition.

Symptoms can take years, even decades, to appear but sadly, by the time a person becomes ill and seeks help, it is likely that considerable damage will have already been done to the liver. If HCV is diagnosed early then treatment can be initiated and severe or life threatenting complications may be prevented.

In cases of chronic Hepatitis C infection, the virus will remain in the body unless medical treatment is given. Most people do not have symptoms and some may have symptoms of fatigue, but there may be ongoing damage to the liver. It is thought that a significant number of people with chronic Heptatitis C will develop cirrhosis of the liver within 20 years.

Did you know? …

It is estimated that 3% of the world’s population are living with chronic Hepatitis C and up to 12 million people are infected with the Hepatitis C virus in India.

How can I get Hepatitis C?

HCV is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact. It can be spread through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral intercourse as well as body to body contact. It can also be passed through sharing needles when injecting recreational drugs, sharing toothbrushes and razors, having a tattoo or body piercing with equipment that has not been properly sterilised and through needle injuries.

HCV can also be caught from medical treatment in developing countries and from mother to baby during pregnancy and/or birth. Transmission during sexual intercourse in monogamous heterosexual couples is rare, but there is an increased risk of infection for gay men and individuals who are HIV positive.

How do I know if I have Hepatitis C?

Many people who have HCV often have no symptoms at first which is why it is important to get tested regularly if you have ever been at risk. Early symptoms can include feeling tired, loss of appetite, stomach pains, nausea and vomiting. Later symptoms can include mood swings, anxiety and depression, and digestive problems.

How can I test for Hepatitis C?

Better2Know offers a Hepatitis C test on its own or as part of a screen. If you would like to test for Hepatitis C and other STDs or STIs that you are worried about, we offer a range of tests and screens that may help. A blood sample is needed for your Hepatitis C test and the same sample can also be used for other tests you may want to have. Results for your Hepatitis C test will be available the same day that your sample is received in our laboratory. Better2Know can help you if you test positive for any of your results.

How is Hepatitis C treated?

HCV can be treated by taking a combination of drugs. This medication is taken for a period of time that will depend on the strain of the Hepatitis C virus you have. Further testing will be required to correctly identify the strain of Hepatitis C virus you carry. Throughout the therapy, blood tests need to be taken to check if the medication is working. Even if the virus is not completely cleared the treatments can reduce inflammation and scarring of the liver. Better drugs are being developed all the time that can offer increased chances of success and there are some medicines now available that promise to cure Hepatitis C infections.

Lifestyle changes can also help limit the chance of damage to your liver developing. These include eating a healthier diet, exercising regularly, and stopping or limiting alcohol intake.

What are the risks if Hepatitis C is left untreated?

Hepatitis C, if left undetected and untreated, can cause life-threatening conditions such as scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and may lead to liver cancer and liver failure. You also will be at higher risk of contracting HIV and other STDs through unprotected sexual intercourse. There is a risk of transmission from mother to baby either whilst pregnant or during delivery. About one in five people with a chronic Hepatitis C infection will go on to develop cirrhosis of the liver within 20 years.