What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a viral infection which affects the liver. Around 2,000 people are diagnosed with Hepatitis C in Ireland each year (NCBI). It can be passed on by sexual and non-sexual contact.
About 75% of people infected with Hepatitis C go on to develop a chronic condition. It can take years for the patient to be aware that they are infected and for symptoms to appear. Many people are unaware they have a problem. By the time they become unwell and go to the doctor, considerable damage may have been done to the liver. This can be prevented if you are diagnosed early.
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Did you know? …
Over half of new Hepatitis C diagnoses in Ireland are in people aged over 35. Click here to find out more.
How can I catch it?
Hepatitis C is passed on through blood to blood contact. This can include:
- Unprotected vaginal, anal or oral intercourse, as well as body contact
- Sharing needles when injecting recreational drugs (nearly 45% of intravenous drug users have contracted Hepatitis C in this way)
- Having a tattoo or body piercing with equipment that has not been properly sterilised
- Sharing toothbrushes
- Sharing razors
- Needle stick injury.
Hepatitis C can also be caught through medical treatment in developing countries, blood transfusions in the UK (before 1991) or from mother to baby during pregnancy and/or birth. Sexual transmission in extremely rare in monogamous heterosexual couples but there is an increased risk of infection for gay men and the HIV positive community.
What are the signs and symptoms?
There are often no symptoms at first which is why it is important to get tested regularly, and if you have ever been at risk. Symptoms, if they occur, can include feeling tired, aching limbs, digestive problems and brain fog. The symptoms develop gradually which is why some people can take over ten years to be diagnosed.
How can I test for Hepatitis C?
With Better2Know, you can test for Hepatitis C either on its own or as part of our Hepatitis Screen or Platinum Screen. If you have had a needle stick injury or recent encounter, you should choose our Early Detection Screen.
A blood sample is needed to test for Hepatitis C. The same sample can also be used for any other blood tests you may want to order.
Results for Hepatitis C testing are available the same day that your sample is received in the testing laboratory. At certain locations, instant Hepatitis C testing is available, giving you results in around 20 minutes. If you test positive, your Better2Know doctor will be able to help you with the next steps.
If left untreated, what are the health risks?
If left undetected and untreated, you may have a higher risk of contracting HIV and other STIs through unprotected intercourse. It can also cause chronic inflammation of the liver (fibrosis) or cirrhosis and may lead to liver cancer. It is thought that up to 30% of people with chronic Hepatitis C will develop cirrhosis of the liver within 20 years.
If you are a woman who is pregnant, the risk of transmission to your baby can be minimised by your midwife who will be able to advise you.
What if I test positive for Hepatitis C?
New medications have proven to be very effective in treating Hepatitis C with few side effects. These treatments offer the best chance to clear the virus in the body and are shown to work in up to 95% of patients. Some strains or genotypes of the Hepatitis C virus are more likely to respond than others. Even if the virus is not completely cleared, treatment can reduce inflammation and scarring of the liver.
If you test positive for Hepatitis C, your Better2Know doctor will advise you to see a specialist. They will carry out further tests to monitor the effect the virus is having on your body and can then advise on the best treatment option. You can decide whether to continue this treatment with your Better2Know doctor or through your own doctor.
Many people also find that a complementary lifestyle helps to cope with symptoms and improve their quality of life. People with a chronic Hepatitis C infection should be seen by a hospital liver specialist for monitoring and to assess suitability for treatment.
Treatment may include antiviral drugs to help your body combat the effects of the virus. You will be advised to have regular check-ups to monitor your reaction to the medication.
Book your Hepatitis C test
Better2Know is the world’s largest private provider of sexual health testing services. We will arrange a confidential appointment at a clinic near you with fast and accurate results for your peace of mind. Book online or call our Sexual Health Advisors now.