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Viral hepatitis affects over 700,000 people in the UK
There are several viruses that cause hepatitis. The common ones are hepatitis A, B and C. Most people recover from hepatitis A with no lasting liver damage, but hepatitis B and C can cause long term liver disease and even liver cancer.
How Hepatitis A hurts your liver
Hepatitis A is passed out in the bowel motions of an infected person, and is passed from person to person by eating food or drinking water contaminated with the virus due to poor hygiene standards . Most people feel better within a few weeks. The illness can be more severe in those who are old or who have other underlying conditions.
How to look after your liver. There are vaccines available to protect against hepatitis A. Vaccination is recommended if you are travelling abroad outside Europe and the US, but you should also speak to your GP if you think you might be at risk because of your job or your lifestyle.
Learn more about Hepatitis A
How Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C hurt your liver
Hepatitis B virus is found in blood and body fluids and causes liver damage. It is 50-100 times more infectious than HIV.
Hepatitis C is a virus carried in the blood which infects and damages the liver.
Both hepatitis B and C are easy to catch through blood to blood contact and very hard to get rid of. Even a tiny amount of dried blood – too small to be visible to the naked eye – is enough to pass on the infection if it gets into your blood stream.
This could be from sharing contaminated:
- equipment for injecting drugs (including steroids)
- tattoo, accupuncture or body piercing equipment
- medical or dental equipment
- razors, clippers, or toothbrushes
or through an open cut or wound.
Sex and passing the virus from mother to baby at birth, are also high risk factors for hepatitis B.
There are few symptoms of hepatitis B and C and people can be infected for many years without knowing, during which time liver damage can occur. An estimated five out of every six people with chronic hepatitis C are unaware of their infection.
How to look after your liver
There is a simple test to find out whether you have the virus and an effective vaccine to protect you from hepatitis B. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.
Speak to your GP about testing and hepatitis B vaccination if you think you might be at risk because:
- your job or your lifestyle puts you in contact with blood or body fluids
- you are traveling to, or you or your family have spent time in, areas of the world where hepatitis B is common, including South-East Asia, China and Africa (eg see map)
- you need regular medical treatment, such as dialysis or blood products
- you received blood or blood products in the UK before 1991 (when screening for hepatitis B and C was introduced)
- you have received medical or dental treatment in countries where equipment may have been inadequately sterilized.
Treatment is most effective if viral hepatitis is detected early.
- Never share razors, nail scissors or toothbrushes
- Cover wounds, especially when you play sport
- Only use licensed tattoo and piercing studios and make sure all equipment used has been sterilised
- Use a condom during sex
- Never share drug equipment, and don’t use rolled up bank notes for cocaine
- If you need medical treatment abroad make sure only sterile equipment is used.
What is it like to live with hepatitis C?
"…there is so much need to warn people about this silent killer. Make sure they get tested and get the right treatment at the right time.""The best way to survive Hep C is to know that you have got it."
Find out more about hepatitis B
Hepatitis B in English
Hepatitis B in other languages
The Canadian Liver Foundation have also released a short information film entitled "You could be living with hepatitis C and not even know it" . Click here to view their film.