What is Hepatitis C?

What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. The liver is in the top right corner of the abdominal area.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that affects the liver, it is sometimes called ‘Hep C’. Hepatitis C is slow acting and, if untreated can lead to liver damage, liver failure or cancer.

The main risk factor for Hepatitis C infection is through shared injecting of drugs, steroids or hormones. 

There are also other ways you can contract Hepatitis C, such as through tattooing tools and inks, for example if the ink or inkpot has been reused, such as in unregulated settings, or potentially through unsterile body piercing equipment and jewellery.

You only need a very small amount of virus, and an entry point, such as damaged mucous membranes, skin rupture via needle, for the virus to gain entry to your bloodstream to be infected.  

Signs and Symptoms
Most people don’t have any symptoms at first, or have a mild flu-like illness.

Sometimes the person’s urine becomes dark, and their skin and whites of their eyes turn yellow (jaundice).

Hepatitis C symptoms can disappear within a few weeks, but this does not always mean that the infection has also disappeared.

About one in four who contract Hepatitis C can clear the virus naturally within six months of initial infection, however the remaining three in four people will have lifelong Hepatitis C infection, that will not resolve without treatment.

Symptoms of chronic Hepatitis C can often be very vague and may or may not include:

  • Mild to severe tiredness
  • No appetite
  • Feeling unwell and vomiting
  • Soreness under the ribs
  • Fever
  • Joint Pain

Testing and Treatment
There is currently no vaccine for Hepatitis C, however Australia is leading the world in reaching the goal of eliminating Hepatitis C as a public health threat by 2030 because we have unrestricted access to new highly effective treatments called “Direct Acting Antivirals” (DAA’s).

Direct Acting Antivirals can be prescribed by a specialist, GP or nurse practitioner, with a greater than 97 per cent cure by choosing to take either three tablets a day for eight weeks or one tablet a day for 12 weeks.

Since March 2016 over 50,000 people across Australia have been treated, however this only represents about 26 per cent of all people with Hepatitis C. 

If you think you may have any risk factors for Hepatitis C, please see your GP or local Sexual Health Clinic for a simple blood test.

If you have a positive result, your GP will arrange a couple more tests which determine if there is any liver disease, then treatment can commence.

The best way to reduce risk of getting Hepatitis C is not to inject drugs. If you choose to inject drugs, then avoid sharing any needles, syringes or injecting equipment.

Clean injecting equipment is discounted and available through pharmacies or free at Needle Syringe Program outlets.

Before considering any body art (such as tattooing or piercing) make sure the artist uses only sterilised equipment, and new inks, needles & disposable inkpots each time.

For more information, visit  https://www.getthefacts.health.wa.gov.au/blood-safe/bbvs/hepatitis-c

- Contributed by Clinic 60, Sexual Health Services, Tasmanian Health Service
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