What is Hepatitis C infection?
“Hepatitis” means inflammation/swelling of the liver. There are many causes of “hepatitis”, including viruses (e.g. hepatitis A, B and C), alcohol and certain medications. Hepatitis C refers to a specific virus which can cause hepatitis, and affects approximately 1% of the Australian community. The majority of people who are infected with Hepatitis C will not clear the virus without medical treatment.
How did I acquire Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is transmitted by blood to blood contact. In Australia, the most common way that Hepatitis C is transmitted is through injecting drug use. It is NOT spread through casual or social contact such as sneezing, coughing, hugging or eating food prepared by a person with hepatitis C. It is rare to transmit Hepatitis C sexually in a monogamous relationship.
How does Hepatitis C affect my liver?
Hepatitis C can cause slow but ongoing damage to the liver. Up to 20% of people with Hepatitis C will develop severe scarring (“cirrhosis”) over a period of 20 years. However, this may be quicker in the presence of alcohol consumption, or other conditions which also affect the liver.
What are the symptoms of Hepatitis C infection?
Most people with hepatitis C infection do not have symptoms. However, some people may feel tired or vaguely unwell. The presence or absence of symptoms is not a reliable marker of the presence of liver damage.
Is there a vaccine for Hepatitis C?
There is currently no vaccine against hepatitis C.
Is there treatment for Hepatitis C?
Treatment is available for Hepatitis C. Current treatment consists of weekly injections (Pegylated Interferon) and daily tablets (Ribavirin) for either six or twelve months depending of the subtype of Hepatitis C virus. This treatment can potentially cure the disease, although it does not work in everyone. However, not everyone with hepatitis C needs treatment, and this should be discussed with your gastroenterologist.
Should I be tested for Hepatitis C?
Testing for Hepatitis C should be considered in those at risk of infection: history of injecting drug use, tattoos, abnormal liver function tests, evidence of liver disease, received blood transfusion prior to 1991, born in a country with a high prevalence of hepatitis C.