What is it?

Hepatitis C is a virus that causes inflammation of the liver and may result in liver disease.

How do I get it?

Hepatitis C is passed on by blood-to-blood contact. A small amount of blood can carry enough of the virus to cause infection.

Transmission can occur through sharing injecting equipment, and less commonly through sharing toothbrushes, razors and being exposed to unsterile tattoo and piercing equipment.

What symptoms or signs might I notice?

You may not experience any symptoms at all, or you may experience flu-like symptoms, nausea and abdominal pain in the early stages of infection. During the first 2 - 6 months you may be able to clear the virus naturally, or you may go on to develop chronic infection. After many years, chronic infection could lead to cirrhosis of the liver and even cancer.

How will I be tested?

Hepatitis C is diagnosed with a blood test (HCV antigen test).Unlike Hepatitis A and B, if your body clears the Hepatitis C virus you can become infected again if you are exposed. You do not develop immunity to the Hepatitis C virus.

How will I be treated?

If your test is positive you will be referred to a liver specialist who assesses how to monitor and treat your infection.

Treatment can have significant side effects ranging from mild to very severe. Some strains of Hepatitis C respond better to treatment than others.

Not every person clears the virus, even on treatment.Diagnosis of the infection at an early stage means you will likely get a better result from the treatment.

How can I avoid Hepatitis C?

At present there is no vaccine available to prevent you from being infected with Hepatitis C. Other things to think about include:

  • Using condoms and water-based lube for anal sex
  • Wash hands and sex toys during sex and between partners
  • Avoid sharing sex toys (or use condoms over toys and always change condoms between different partners)
  • Use gloves and lube during fisting, and change these between partners
  • Avoid sharing all injecting equipment and paraphernalia including needles, syringes, swabs, spoons, filters, water and tourniquets
  • Always use new injecting equipment
  • Do not share snorting equipment such as straws or notes
  • Always wash your hands before and after injecting
  • Avoid sharing personal items such as toothbrushes, razors and nail scissors / clippers
  • Make sure body artists use new and sterile equipment for tattooing, body piercing and other body art
  • Wear disposable gloves if you give someone first aid or are cleaning up blood or body fluids

What if I have Hep C?

If you have Hepatitis C, following a few simple tips can keep you and others safe and healthy:

  • Use condoms and water-based lubricant during sex
  • Keep cuts, wounds and abrasions covered with a sterile waterproof dressing
  • Wipe up any blood spills carefully with household bleach and disposable paper towels, wearing disposable gloves. Use cold water
  • Place bloodstained tissues, or other bloodstained dressings in a plastic bag before disposal
  • Blood stained clothing can be washed on a regular cycle in a washing machine once rinsed

What if I’m HIV-positive?

There are now an increasing number of cases occurring among men who have sex with men (MSM) living with HIV. Although some of these cases relate to sharing of injecting equipment, it would appear that the majority of cases are related to sexual transmission. Unprotected anal sex is the main risk for sexual transmission of hepatitis C. Your risk is increased by any sex that further increases the risk of damage or injury to the lining of your anus, such as prolonged (long-lasting) sex sessions, rough sex and fisting - especially if you’re taking recreational drugs during group sex. Sharing unwashed sex toys may also be a risk.

Each of these situations can potentially expose you to blood, bleeding or broken skin that may not be easily seen, allowing entry into your bloodstream and potentially exposing you to hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is also found in semen, though it is not clear if this adds any more risk to you during unprotected anal sex. If you are HIV-positive, it is recommended that you have a Hepatitis C test at least once a year. HIV and Hepatitis C can be safely treated in men with both infections. However, HIV is usually the first priority, because untreated HIV may cause Hepatitis C viral load to rise.

Where can I get help?

If you think you might have Hepatitis C, or have been exposed to it, get a check up at Steve Reston Project or Sandyford. Click on the services link for check up options.