Hepatitis C is a virus that can infect and damage the liver. You can become infected with Hepatitis C if you come into contact with the blood of an infected person. In most cases, Hepatitis C causes no noticeable symptoms until the liver has been significantly damaged.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that infects the cells of the liver. It can also affect other parts of the body, including the digestive system, the immune system and the brain.
Most cases occur in people who share needles or injecting equipment contaminated with traces of blood to inject 'street drugs'. Some people with persistent infection remain free of symptoms, although others can have symptoms.
Although some people can clear the infection naturally, persistent infection can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and may lead to liver cancer. Treatment can clear the infection in over half of cases.
When symptoms do occur, they are often vague and can be easily mistaken for another condition. Symptoms include:
- Flu-like symptoms, such as muscle aches and loss of appetite
- Feeling tired all the time
- Hepatitis C often causes no obvious symptoms, and because of this, many people remain unaware that they are infected by Hepatitis C. Testing is usually recommended if you are in a high-risk group, such as being a current or former injecting drug user.
Hepatitis C can be tested for during a blood test, by your GP, sexual health clinic, GUM (genitourinary medicine) clinic or drug treatment service.
The sooner treatment begins after exposure to the Hepatitis C virus, the more likely it is to succeed
Reducing the risk of catching Hepatitis C
Two ways to reduce your risk of catching Hepatitis C are:
- Never share any drug-injecting equipment with other people (not just needles, but also syringes, spoons and filters)
- Don't share razors, toothbrushes or towels that might be contaminated with blood