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Hepatitis C

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C, sometimes called hep C or HCV, is a virus that is carried in the blood and body fluids 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 of the liver.

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. About one in five people infected with hepatitis C will clear the virus, in its acute form, within two to six months. About 80% of people who are infected with hepatitis C will develop a chronic infection.

Chronic hepatitis C can be very different for each individual; many find some of their symptoms come and go and some may find they have the following symptoms:

  • mild to serious tiredness (fatigue)
  • anxiety and/or depression
  • weight loss 
  • loss of appetite and/or feeling sick
  • 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) 
  • joint and muscle aches
  • itchy skin (pruritus)
  • flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, night sweats and headaches 
  • jaundice.

It is not unusual for people with hepatitis C to be diagnosed as having ME or chronic fatigue syndrome. The liver has no nerve endings - meaning liver specific symptoms might not develop until the liver is in the advanced stage of cirrhosis. Even if you have mild or no symptoms, you can still pass the virus on.

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.

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. For full information please see the publication below.

How is it passed on?

Hepatitis C is known as a ‘blood-borne virus’ (BBV); it lives mainly in the liver and moves around the body in the blood. It is spread by to blood contact.

The hepatitis C virus is highly infectious; this means you can get the virus even if you have only been in contact with a very small amount of it. It can be passed on through open cuts, wounds or scratches but cannot be passed on through unbroken skin. In the UK, the virus is often passed on by the sharing of drug injecting equipment.

The following all pose some risk of having or passing on the hepatitis C virus:

  • injecting drugs, (including steroids) especially if sharing any needles,syringes or other 'drug works'
  • receiving blood products in hospital the UK before September 1991 
  • receiving medical treatment or blood products in a country where hepatitis C is common (parts of the Middle East, North Africa, notably Egypt and Pakistan)
  • anyone who was born in a country where hepatitis C is common
  • anyone who has had acupuncture, tattoos or body piercings in unsterile conditions.

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.

Treatment

Effective treatments for hepatitis C are now available and can result in you permanently clearing hepatitis C. Once you are diagnosed with hepatitis C it is important to get a prompt referral to a specialist who can offer treatment (usually a hepatologist, gastroenterologist or infectious disease specialist) and can assess the virus, genotype and your current liver health. This information will help them establish if you should start treatment and, if so, the best treatment course for you. 

'Clearing' the hepatis C infection does not mean you are immune (protected lifelong against the virus); this means you should take precautions to minimise the risk of becoming re-infected.

Please see the publication below for full information on current treatments.

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

Support

Please visit the support section of our website for information on Support groups in your area or visit our Useful Links section for other organisations who may be able to offer information and support.

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
Web
www.skiptonfund.org
( Fund s
et 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.)

A Group Legal Action for those infected with Hepatitis C or Hepatitis C & HIV via the use of Contaminated Factor VIII and Factor XI in the 1970’s and 1980’ is being led by Collins Law. If you are interested in finding out more or registering your  interest, contact Collins Law directly on 0800 731 5821. See also:  http://www.collinslaw.co.uk

Please note that the British Liver Trust is not directly involved in this legal action and cannot directly support any claimants.

Download publication

 Download:  Hepatitis C publication HEC/07/17

View references here

Reviewed by: Ms Sara Boxer; Professor Graham Foster, Professor of Hepatology Queen Marys University of London and Consultant Barts Health in East London; Dr Sam Douthwaite Consultant in Infectious Diseases, Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Trust.

 

 

Further information

The I’m Worth… campaign has been created to support people living with Hepatitis C. It aims to address the stigma that many people with Hepatitis C face, encouraging and empowering people living with hepatitis C to access care and services no matter how or when they were infected. For more information on the campaign and to access materials designed to support people living with hepatitis C and those around them, please visit www.imworth.co.uk

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

Testing for Hepatitis C - information videos in different languages

The following Hepatitis C videos, in several languages, aim to encourage anyone who may be at risk of Hepatitis C (HCV) to ask their doctor about a HepC test:

English

Hepatitis C risks
Risks from unscreened blood
Risks from needle sharing
Risks from medical/dental treatment abroad
Risks from unsterile tattos or piercings

Urdu

Hepatitis C risks
Risks from unscreened blood
Risks from medical/dental treatment abroad
Risks from unsterile tattos or piercings

Polish

Hepatitis C risks
Risks from unscreened blood
Risks from needle sharing
Risks from medical/dental treatment abroad
Risks from unsterile tattos or piercings