More about hepatitis C - HepC
More about hepatitis C
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What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a virus that can affect your liver.
You can get the virus if blood from someone with hepatitis C gets into your blood.
For some people, hepatitis C will go away without treatment, but most people will need medicine to clear the virus.
If it's not treated hepatitis C can lead to serious, life-threatening conditions like liver cancer and liver failure.
If you have hepatitis C, you may not experience any symptoms for years, or you may think some of the symptoms are caused by another illness or condition. The virus can cause serious damage to your liver even when you don’t feel unwell. That's why getting tested is a good idea.
Most people with hepatitis C will have no symptoms and will not know they have it.
If symptoms do develop, they may include:
- a high temperature
- loss of appetite
- tummy pains
- feeling and being sick
Doing a test is the only way to know if you have hepatitis C.
Do I need a test?
Anyone can get hepatitis C and it is easy to have it without knowing.
It's a good idea to get tested if:
- you think you may have been in contact with hepatitis C
- you have a higher chance of having hepatitis C
- you have symptoms of hepatitis C that don't go away or that keep coming back
You have a higher chance of having hepatitis C if:
- you've ever used drug paraphernalia, like injecting equipment, bank notes or straws to snort with, spoons or pipes
- you've ever shared injecting equipment for any type of drug
- you've ever lived in, or had medical or dental treatment, in a country where hepatitis C is more common
- you've had a tattoo or piercing with unsterilised equipment
- your mother had hepatitis C
- you live, or have lived, with someone with hepatitis C
- you've had sex without a condom with someone with hepatitis C (but the chance is low unless it is sexual activity that might expose you to blood)
- you had a blood transfusion in the UK before September 1991
- you had an organ or tissue transplant in the UK before 1992
Testing for hepatitis C is advised following any time you may have been exposed to the virus.
You can do a test even if you've had hepatitis C before.
How is hepatitis C passed on?
Hepatitis C can only be passed on when blood from someone with hepatitis C gets into the blood of someone without hepatitis C.
It can't be passed on through everyday contact like hugging, kissing or sharing cups, plates or other utensils.
Some of the ways hepatitis C can be passed on are:
- sharing injecting equipment for any type of drug
- from drug paraphernalia, like injecting equipment, bank notes or straws to snort with, spoons or pipes
- unsterilised tattoo, piercing or acupuncture equipment
- sharing things like razors, toothbrushes or hair clippers that may have blood on them
- sex without a condom with someone with hepatitis C (but the chance is low unless it's sexual activity that might expose someone to blood)
- If you are pregnant and have hepatitis C, there is a small chance of it being passed on to the baby.
Hepatitis C treatment
Hepatitis C is usually treated with tablets called direct-acting antiviral tablets. You take these every day for around 8 to 12 weeks.
You may have heard of a treatment called Interferon, which is no longer used to treat hepatitis C. The tablets that are now prescribed are simple to take and most people have very few side effects or no side effects.
More than 9 in 10 people will be cured after taking the treatment. Successful treatment does not give you protection against getting a hepatitis C infection in future. You can still catch it again. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.
If your hepatitis C is not cured after taking the tablets, you may be offered different treatments. You'll get help to manage the virus and look after your liver.
Starting treatment as soon as possible can help stop hepatitis C damaging your liver. But it's possible to start treatment at any time.
How self-testing works
You take your own blood sample and send it to our lab for testing.
The lab checks your blood sample to see if you have hepatitis C.
First, we check if your blood has any hepatitis C antibodies. Antibodies are made by your body to fight the virus. They mean that you have been in contact with hepatitis C at some point.
If your blood has antibodies, we check whether you have an active hepatitis C infection or not.
Negative test results
Testing negative means the test has not found evidence of active hepatitis C. This usually means you do not have hepatitis C.
However, it can take up to 3 months after getting hepatitis C before it can be detected by a test.
If you think you've been in contact with hepatitis C in the last few months, consider doing another test in about 3 months’ time.
Positive test results
Testing positive means you currently have active hepatitis C. This can be cured with a course of tablets.
If you test positive, an NHS healthcare professional will call you to discuss the result. They will talk to you about how to get treatment and what support is available.
If you have questions about hepatitis C or need support at any time, you can call our helpline on 0333 344 4462. The helpline is open Mon-Fri 8.30am-4.30pm, not including bank holidays. Alternatively, you can email our team at [email protected], who will reply during those hours.