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The lowdown – All you need to know about Hep C

Published: 23 July 2018 Tags: Hep C, Sexual Health By John Walding

To coincide with World Hepatitis Day this Saturday (28 July) Esther Pears from the Liver Unit at Manchester Royal Infirmary gives you a whistle-stop guide on Hep C.

What is Hep C? Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes chronic liver disease which can lead to life threatening complications.

Hepatitis C is spread through contact with the blood of someone who has Hepatitis C, mainly through sharing needles, syringes, or other injection drug equipment. Hepatitis C can also be spread when getting tattoos and body piercings in casual places or with non-sterile instruments.

Why should I be worried about Hep C?

Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men have a higher chance of getting Hepatitis C especially if they are involved in high-risk behaviors, such as injecting drug use, slamming, sharing sex toys, chem sex, fisting and other high risk activities that lead to even microscopic blood loss.

What are the symptoms?

Hepatitis C does not usually cause any symptoms in the early stages of infection, but the virus remains in the liver causing a hidden and silent infection. Over decades the infection causes progressive liver damage and by the time symptoms do appear such as fatigue or signs of liver failure, liver cirrhosis may have set in. This can lead to catastrophic life threatening complications.

What can I do if I’m worried about it or think I may have it?

There is no vaccine to prevent against Hepatitis C but there is a new treatment available which can clear the virus in up to 99% of people. If you are worried, go to see your GP who can test you for Hepatitis C and refer you for treatment at a centre of your choice or drop into the Hathersage Centre for confidential help and advice.

Hepatitis C is a huge problem in Greater Manchester.

We want to encourage people to find out more about Hepatitis C and how they can avoid becoming infected. Many people may have done something in the past that may have exposed them to Hepatitis C and we are urging people to think about this and if necessary, ask to be tested.

If you have HCV and /or HIV, it is important to be protected against hepatitis A and B (HAV and HBV).

You really don’t want another hepatitis virus to complicate your health.

Your clinic should check whether you are already protected against hepatitis A and hepatitis B and if not you should be offered vaccinations. All men who have sex with other men should consider these vaccinations as these infections are more common in the gay community. In the UK, these are free and available from your Sexual Health clinic, or from your General Doctor (GP).

How is Hepatitis A passed on?

The hepatitis A virus is highly infectious; you can get the virus even if you have only been in contact with a very small amount of it. It is most commonly passed on (transmitted) through “faeco-oral’ routes. This means that the virus is passed out in bowel motions (faeces) and finds its way into the mouth (orally); usually through close contact with someone who has the virus, or through food and water contaminated by sewage or the hepatitis A virus. It is important to wash your hands when you have been to the toilet, to practise good hygiene when handling food and to only drink safe water.

How is Hepatitis B passed on?

Hep B, is a highly infectious virus carried in the blood and body fluids which attacks and damages the liver. Hepatitis B is spread when blood, semen, or other body fluid infected with the Hepatitis B virus enters the body of a person who is not infected. People can become infected with the virus during activities such as: Birth (spread from an infected mother to her baby during birth) Sex with an infected partner.