Hepatitis C (Hep C) is a passed on through blood to blood contact. People who share needles are particularly at risk and it is possible to spread Hep C through unprotected sex. Many people live with Hep C for years, unaware that they have it as there are no symptoms. However, left untreated, it can cause serious liver damage.
Hep C is spread via blood and there are six main strains of the virus, some of which are higher risk than others. Drug users who share needles are susceptible to catching Hep C and it is thought that half of those who inject drugs are infected. It can be spread via unprotected sex; by injecting needles and using other drug equipment; by having a tattoo or piercing in an unhygienic environment and by sharing razors or toothbrushes with an infected person. Pregnant women with Hep C can pass it on to their unborn child.
Hep C tends not to have any obvious symptoms in the early stages and may only appear when the liver is already severely damaged. This means regular testing is essential. If signs do appear, they are often misdiagnosed and confused with another health issue. Symptoms include tiredness, flu-like side effects including a fever, joint pain and muscle ache, stomach ache, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, dark pee and itchy skin.
You can test yourself quickly and easily with our discreet self-collection kit. It includes simple instructions on how to take a small blood sample, which you can do at a time and place convenient to you. It doesn't hurt. Test yourself once a year if in a stable relationship or every time you have a new partner. If you choose the priority option, results can come within 4 hours. The standard service takes just 24 hours which is far quicker than going to your GP or a GUM (genito-urinary medicine) clinic.
If you have been infected recently, you may not need medication as your body can fight off the virus on its own. However, if a test shows that Hep C hasn't gone after few weeks, treatment is recommended. It is not a quick fix and must be taken for 8 to 48 weeks, depending on the strain of Hep C you have.
Until recently, treatment involved a weekly injection that encourages the immune system to attack the virus and an antiviral tablet. However, recent changes mean injections are no longer needed and you take just one or two tablets every day.
Treatment for Hep C has side effects including insomnia, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, depression and fever. Coping with these can be difficult but it is essential you continue with your medication until advised to stop.
Pregnant women with Hep C need to seek medical advice as treatment may be delayed until after birth.
Making small lifestyle changes so you eat a healthy, balanced diet, take regular exercise, stop smoking and limit alcohol intake can help restrict the damage and spread of Hep C.
Left untreated, Hep C can lead to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis). This can happen 20 years after infection, which is why regular testing is essential.
Don't share needles or personal care products - this includes razors, toothbrushes or nail scissors As Hep C is largely symptomless, it is difficult to tell who is infected so don't share anything which may contain someone else's blood.
Use a condom - use a condom during vaginal and anal sex even when you are undergoing treatment.
Be aware - Make sure you get checked regularly for Hep C. It only takes a few seconds to order your Hep C test online.
Limit your number of sex partners - having multiple sex partners can increase the risk of Hep C spreading.
Talk to your partner - a simple conversation before beginning a sexual relationship can help. Take your time and find out whether he or she is at risk of having Hep C. Talk to your partner about the risk factors, the benefits of regular screening, signs to look out for and the need to use condoms. Hep C and STIs are more common when ignorance is higher so it pays to have some knowledge and share it with others.
Get tested regularly - if you are in stable relationship it is recommended to do a test at least once a year. If you have multiple partners you should test yourself two weeks after sexual activity with each one. Here at raTrust we can offer you various types of STI tests. You will be able to do your Hep C test at home at a time and in an environment which is convenient for you. The whole process is very quick, discreet and you could know your results within as little as 4 hours of the sample reaching the laboratory.
Last updated June 3, 2018