What is it?

Hepatitis C is a viral infection which affects the liver.  Around 2,000 people are disagnosed with Hepatitis C in Ireland each year (NCBI).  It can be passed on by sexual and other 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.  It is thought up to 30% of people with chronic Hepatitis C will develop cirrhosis of the liver within 20 years.

Did you know? …

There are thought to be between 20,000 and 50,000 people in Irelandwith chronic Hepatitis C, over twice as many people than are living with HIV. Click here to see the full article

How can I get 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.

How do I know if I have it?

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 come on gradually which is why some people can take over ten years to be diagnosed.

Hepatitis C Testing

You can get a test at Better2Know, either on its own or as part of our Platinum Screen.  A blood sample is needed for the test.  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 and, at certain locations, instant Hepatitis C testing is available giving you results in around 20 minutes.

If you have had a needle stick injury or recent encoutner then you should choose our Early Detection Screen.

If you test positive your Better2Know doctor will be able to help you with the next steps.

How is it treated?

The virus can be treated.  There are now new medicaitons which are proven to be very effective against Hepatitsi C.  These drugs offer the best chance to clear the virus from the body and are shown to work in 50-85% of paitents, as some strains or genotypes of the HCV are more likely to respond than others. Even if the virus is not completely cleared, the treatments can reduce inflammation and scarring of the liver. There are new drugs available that are taken alongside these, and even newer ones on the horizon that offer increased chances of success.

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.

Adverse consequences

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.  If you are a woman who is pregnant, then the risk of transmission to your baby can be minimised by your midwife who will be able to advise you.

About one in five people with a chronic HCV condition develops cirrhosis of the liver within 20 years.

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