Hepatitis C – TakeATestUK

Hepatitis C

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is one of a number of blood-borne Hepatitis viruses which can affect the liver. The liver is one of the organs which helps to clean the blood. When it is not working properly – for example when a virus such as hepatitis C is present – toxins can build up in the body causing short- and long-term health problems.

How is it transmitted?

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus. It is transmitted through contact with infected blood. This can happen in a number of different ways.

Blood transfusion/Blood products

Since 1991 these have been screened for hepatitis C in the UK. However, if you received a blood transfusion before this time in the UK, or have had a medical procedure outside the UK in a developing country you may have been exposed to the virus.

Tattoos and Piercings

Reused and unsterilized needles and tattooing ink can carry the virus. Most tattooists and piercing shops in the UK are fully licensed with government agencies and safety checks are carried out to ensure clean needles are used and disposed of safely. Always check to ensure the tattooist or piercing shops holds a licence to practice before committing to a new piercing or tattoo.

Injecting Drug Use

Sharing injecting equipment including spoons, filters and water carries a high risk of Hepatitis C transmission.

Snorting drugs

Cocaine can destroy the mucous membranes in the nose and as a result traces of blood on notes or straws, sometimes too small to see can contain enough virus to transmit infection

Chem sex (sex on drugs /party sex)

During group sex the virus can spread quickly in a short time from arse to arse via dicks, fists and dildos. The risk of getting Hep C is higher when having sex on drugs because the sex goes on longer and is rougher which potentially causes more bleeding. Using a fresh condom or glove for each new man will help to reduce the spread

Mother to Child

The risk of passing Hepatitis C from mother to child at birth is about 5%.

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis C?

Early infection (Acute)

The majority of people who catch Hepatitis C experience no symptoms at all when they first become infected although some people may feel generally unwell. Symptoms may include

  • extreme tiredness;
  • flu-like symptoms;
  • Feeling sick or actually vomiting;
  • Jaundice, which is yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes may occur in the early stages of Hepatitis C after becoming infected however this is not common;
  • About 1 in 5 people who catch the infection clear it naturally through the action of their own immune system – this can take up to 6 months. Women and younger people are more likely to clear the virus in this way. There are no long-term complications for people who clear the virus naturally.

In about 4 out of 5 people, the virus remains active in the liver and bloodstream long-term. This is called chronic infection with hepatitis C.

Long term infection with Hepatitis C (Chronic)

Many people with chronic hepatitis C infection have no symptoms at all, while others may feel generally unwell. Most people remain well for many years and this makes the infection difficult to recognise without a test.

Most people who have long-term hepatitis C infection live out a normal lifespan and others only develop symptoms of chronic liver disease many years after the initial infection.

Up to 1 in 5 people who catch hepatitis C and do not clear it naturally may go on to develop serious liver disease (cirrhosis). A small proportion of these go on to develop liver cancer .

If you develop any of the symptoms indicated above it is important that you see your GP as there are many different conditions which can cause these symptoms.

How will I know if I have Hepatitis C?

A simple blood test can detect antibodies to the hepatitis C virus (HCV) in your blood. (Antibodies are proteins made by the immune system to attack germs such as viruses, bacteria, etc.) A positive antibody test means that at some stage you have been infected with hepatitis C. This does not however mean that you have active Hepatitis C.

If you test Hep C antibody-positive via TakeATestUK, we will arrange for you to attend a clinic for further tests to check if the virus is still present.  This is called a PCR test. This is a more specialised test which detects particles of the virus. Tests may also be done to find exactly which type of HCV you are infected with, as there is more than one type.

It can take up to six months for the antibody test to become positive after a person has first been infected Ifyou think you have had a risk in the 6 months prior to your test a repeat test is advisable. Thisshould be no sooner than 6 months after your last risk.

What is the treatment for Hepatitis C – can it be cured?

The treatment of hepatitis C has advanced in the last few years. This has greatly improved the outlook for people with hepatitis C. The main aim of treatment is to clear the hepatitis C virus from the body in order to  prevent severe liver damage.

The damage caused by hepatitis C is usually very gradual and there are different strains which respond differently to the various treatments therefore the time at which people with hepatitis C start treatment and the type of treatment varies between individuals. If your confirmatory test indicates you have active virus your specialist will be able to discuss with you your treatment choices in detail. This will include the most appropriate time for you to start treatment.

If you don’t have any symptoms but think you may have been at risk from Hepatitis C you can take you own test via this service. You will need to request the specialist test kit or the dried blood spot kit.