What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C, sometimes called hep C or HCV, is a virus that is carried in the blood which infects and damages the liver.
The hepatitis C virus infects the cells in your liver, causing inflammation (swelling and tenderness) and fibrosis. In people with chronic (long-term) hepatitis C infection, inflammation and fibrosis continue to spread. Over time, usually many years, this can lead to cirrhosis.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C affects people very differently – many people with it may have no symptoms at all and may never know they have the virus. There is often little or no relation between the seriousness of the symptoms and the damage to the liver. Symptoms are often hard to pin down and are frequently blamed on other problems. They can include:
- mild to serious tiredness (fatigue)
- weight loss
- loss of appetite
- inability to tolerate alcohol
- discomfort in the liver area (place your right hand over your lower right ribs and it will just about cover the area of your liver)
- problems concentrating (‘brain fog’)
- feeling sick
- flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, night sweats and headaches
- yellow skin or eyes, called jaundice (this is very rare and is a sign of advanced disease or acute infection).
Some of the symptoms may come and go. It is not unusual for people with hepatitis C to be diagnosed as having ME or chronic fatigue syndrome. Unfortunately, the liver does not start to complain until it is seriously damaged – often only then do people realise that there is anything wrong.
Different types of hepatitis C
There are different types (genotypes) of hepatitis C each with different subtypes. Knowing what type of hepatitis C virus you have is important as the types respond differently to treatment, with genotype 1 needing the longest course of treatment.
The most common types in the UK, Europe and USA are 1, 2 and 3. Subtypes are labelled a, b and c.
It is possible to be infected again with a different type of hepatitis C, or be infected with two types at the same time. Because each type responds to treatment differently you will be given a test to find out which type you have.
How is it passed on?
Hepatitis C is known as a ‘blood-borne virus’ (BBV) and can be spread by blood to blood contact. However, it is also present in other body fluids which can be a source of infection, particularly if they have become contaminated with blood.
Hepatitis C is highly infectious so even a tiny amount of blood from someone who has the virus can pass on the infection if it gets into your bloodstream. This can also apply to dried blood on objects and surfaces, as the hepatitis C virus can survive for up to two weeks in dried blood.
The people most at risk are those who are exposed to blood and blood products. These are:
people who inject drugs, especially if they share any drug-using paraphernalia
people who received blood products in the UK before September 1991
people who have received medical treatment or blood products in a country where hepatitis C is common
people who were born in a country where hepatitis C is common.
If you have Hepatitis C it is important that you take careful precautions so you do not to pass the virus on to anyone else.
Effective treatment for hepatitis C is available and can permanently clear hepatitis C from the blood and prevent further liver damage. Once you are diagnosed with hepatitis C it is important to get a prompt referral to a liver specialist. They can give you information about the risks and benefits of treatment. Treatment can be prolonged and have side effects, so it is important you know that treatment is right for you before starting on it.
Treatment will usually last for between 6 to or 12 months, depending on the strain of hepatitis C you have and will consist of a combination of different drugs taken for some or the whole of this time.
Looking after yourself
For most people with hepatitis C, eating a normal, well-balanced diet with everything in moderation is all that is needed.If you have specific symptoms or side effects you may need more advice on a diet to suit your personal needs.
Latest information/ guidance documents
NICE guidance for Simeprevir: Published February 2015 – click here to view
NICE guidance for Sofosbuvir: Published February 2015 – click here to view
Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) guidance for use of ledipasvir-sofosbuvir (Harvoni) within NHS Scotland: Published February 2015 – click here to view
Please visit the support section of our website for information on Support groups in your area.
If you were infected with Hepatitis C due to treatment within the NHS prior to 1991 then please contact :
The Skipton Fund
PO Box 50107
London SW1H 0YF
Tel: 020 7808 1160
Set up by the government, the Fund distributes payments of £20,000 to people who can prove
that they were infected with hepatitis C before 1991 due to treatment within the NHS.
Have your opinion heard – survey on living with hepatitis C
To help others understand the needs of people living with hepatitis C, we are looking to capture your thoughts and opinions in an anonymous survey.
You will be asked about your medical history, how hepatitis C has impacted your life, how you feel about your current care situation and any experiences you may have had with discrimination and stigma.
The survey will take around 15 minutes to complete and your responses will be used to inform a new campaign which aims to encourage and empower people living with hepatitis C to access care and services, no matter how or when they were infected.
We believe that this is a great opportunity for you to have your voice heard and help make an impact for all people living with hepatitis C in the UK and encourage you to take part in this anonymous survey by clicking on the link: http://surveys.newvistalive.com/BritishLiverTrust
Download: Hepatitis C publication HEC/06/15
View references: Click here
Last Updated March 2015
Reviewed by: Professor Aftab Ala Consultant Hepatologist Frimley Park Hospital: Dean Linzey MA RGN, Nurse Consultant Viral Hepatitis Royal Berkshire Hospital: Karen Mercer Clinical Nurse Specialist, Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Trust
To view a short film of people’s experiences of contracting Hepatitis C in Canada click here
To access the HEPscreen toolkit for screening EU migrants click here
To access BASL Treatment Recommendations for the management of patients with Chronic HCV Infection click here