About Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C - Could you have it?

What is hepatitis C?

The hepatitis C virus is a bloodborne virus and the most common modes of infection are through exposure to small quantities of blood.

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) causes both acute and chronic infection. Acute HCV infection is usually asymptomatic, and is only very rarely (if ever) associated with life-threatening disease. About 15-45% of infected persons spontaneously clear the virus within 6 months of infection without any treatment.

The remaining 55-85% of persons will develop chronic HCV infection. Of those with chronic HCV infection, the risk of cirrhosis of the liver is between 15-30% within 20 years.

Is hepatitis C a serious issue in Wales?

Wales has an estimated 12,000 - 14,000 people with hepatitis C; the majority of whom remain undiagnosed.

How can you get hepatitis C in Wales?

As the virus may be transmitted by contact with blood from an infected person, certain people may be at a higher risk of acquiring hepatitis C.

These include:

  • Injecting drug users who share needles;
  • Those coming into contact with blood products i.e. healthcare workers, prison officers;
  • Babies born to infected mothers (about 5% of infected mothers may pass the infection onto their babies);
  • People who received a blood transfusion before 1991 in the UK or in a country that does not screen its blood for the virus.

The virus is spread when the blood from an infected person gets into the bloodstream of another person or rarely from mother to baby, before or during birth.

Currently, the main way hepatitis C is spread in the UK is through drug use, by sharing contaminated equipment. Body piercing or tattooing using unsterilised equipment can spread the virus. Hepatitis C can be spread through sexual intercourse but this is very rare.

How can I tell if someone has hepatitis C?

Many people with hepatitis C don't have any symptoms and are unaware they have the infection. They may develop symptoms later on as their liver becomes increasingly damaged.
When symptoms do occur, they can be mistaken for another condition.

Symptoms can include:

  • Flu-like symptoms, such as muscle aches and a high temperature (fever);
  • Feeling tired all the time;
  • Loss of appetite;
  • Abdominal (tummy) pain;
  • Feeling and being sick.

The only way to know for certain if these symptoms are caused by hepatitis C is to get tested.

How do I protect myself from hepatitis C?

There's no vaccine for hepatitis C, but there are ways to reduce your risk of becoming infected, such as:

  • Not sharing any drug-injecting equipment with other people – including needles and other equipment such as syringes, spoons and filters;
  • Not sharing razors or toothbrushes that might be contaminated with blood.

The risk of getting hepatitis C through sex is very low. However, it may be higher if blood is present, such as menstrual blood or from minor bleeding during anal sex.

Condoms are a good idea to use when having anal sex or sex with a new partner.

How do I protect others from getting hepatitis C?

Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent or limit any damage to your liver and help ensure the infection isn't passed on to other people You can find out about getting treatment for yourself and protecting others from hepatitis C on the NHS Direct Wales website.

If I think I’ve put myself at risk of hepatitis C what should I do?

You should go and get advice from your GP or at your local sexual health clinic.

Where can I go for advice and support about if I am worried about hepatitis C?

NHS Direct Wales has extensive information about hepatitis C on its website. You can also seek advice from your GP or at your local sexual health clinic.

Assess your risk. Take action.
Get information about accessing advice & testing in your area

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This site has been produced by Public Health Wales

Public Health Wales