What is Hepatitis C?

The most recent national estimates suggest that around 216,000 individuals are chronically infected with hepatitis C (HCV) in the UK. *

How is Hepatitis C passed on?

Hepatitis C  is usually passed on through sharing needles such as IV drug users, but also through contact with unsterilized needles (acupuncture, tattooing, body piercing), when exposed to contaminated blood products and when sharing razors or tooth brushes with someone who carries the infection. Hepatitis C can be passed on through oral, vaginal or anal sex with someone who has the Hepatitis C virus, but this is rare.  

In the UK, all blood and blood products are screened for Hepatitis C.

What are the symptoms?

  • In the acute phase, most individuals will have no or mild flu-like symptoms (e.g. fatigue, joint aches, rashes, malaise, poor appetite, nausea, abdominal pain).  Jaundice is not common.
  • 75% of cases progress to chronic infection after 6 months in which there may be no symptoms, but the person remains infectious.  20% of chronic carriers develop irreversible liver damage within 20 years.

How is Hepatitis C diagnosed?

Hepatitis C is diagnosed from a blood sample. The best time to test is at least 10 weeks after having unprotected sexual intercourse.  This test is available at all Nuffield Health Wellbeing Centres.

How is Hepatitis C treated?

In one in four cases, Hepatitis C is self-limiting meaning it is usually temporary and may not require any specific treatment. It is important for monitoring to take place to identify if a persistent or long-lasting (chronic) infection develops. Chronic infection monitoring and treatment is done through a consultant in liver and gastroenterological diseases. 

Individuals with chronic infection can be treated with antiviral drugs to reduce the likelihood of developing severe liver damage. The choice of drug is determined by the strain (genotype) of the virus.

It is important to avoid unprotected sexual activity with your partner until both of you are non-infectious.

Hepatitis C prevention

You can protect yourself from Hepatitis C by wearing condoms, not sharing needles, razors and tooth brushes and avoiding contact with contaminated needles (acupuncture, tattooing, body piercing). There is no vaccine to protect against Hepatitis C.