What is Hepatitis C?
Have you ever been told you have Hepatitis C?
Are you at risk of having Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a virus that can cause serious liver disease in an infected person. The Hepatitis C virus is usually transmitted when blood from an infected person enters the bloodstream of another person (such as through sharing needles or certain sexual activities).
An estimated 8/10 new cases of Hepatitis C in Australia result from the unsafe injection of drugs. Even microscopic amounts of blood are enough to transmit the virus. In about 6% of cases, a pregnant mother can transfer the virus to her baby, especially if she also has HIV. Breastfeeding is usually safe for mothers who have Hepatitis C.
You’re at greater risk of being infected by the Hepatitis C virus if you:
- have ever used intravenous drugs
- have had a needle stick or other injury
- have had a tattoo or piercing done in a facility with poor hygiene (this recently happened in a tattoo facility in Southport, right here on the Gold Coast)
- have received a blood transfusion in Australia before 1990, or in a country with a high rate of Hepatitis C
- spent a long time on dialysis
- have been infected with HIV
- have had sex with someone with Hepatitis C
If left untreated, acute infection progresses to chronic disease in about 75% of cases. These people are at risk of progressive liver fibrosis leading to cirrhosis, liver failure and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).
About 20%-30% of people with chronic Hepatitis C infection will develop cirrhosis, generally after 20-30 years of infection.
BUT Hepatitis C can be cured!
Curing Hepatitis C means clearing the virus from the body. It helps reduce liver inflammation and can also help reverse scarring and cirrhosis. Treatment for Hepatitis C is now significantly simpler, faster and more effective than it used to be. Most (95-98%) patients can be cured with an 8-week treatment regime, in primary care (with your GP). And this treatment is now PBS-covered, which means the cost is subsidised by the government (approximately a maximum of $39.50 and concession patients pay $6.40).
You should check with your doctor before taking any other medication or supplements, and whether you need vaccinations against hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
You should also avoid alcohol if you have hepatitis.
Most people with acute Hepatitis C don’t have any symptoms. Therefore it is important to talk to your doctor about getting tested (with a simple blood test) if you are worried you may be at risk.