Hepatitis C – what you need to know

1.1 What is hepatitis C?

The word ‘hepatitis’ means inflammation of the liver. This inflammation can be caused by chemicals, drugs, drinking too much alcohol, or viruses. Hepatitis C (HCV), or “hep C”, is caused by the hepatitis C virus.
1.2 Is hep C the same as hep A and hep B?

Hep A, hep B and hep C are all different viruses which can cause liver inflammation. Each virus is transmitted in different ways. You can be vaccinated against hep A and hep B, but there is no vaccine to prevent hep C. It is possible to have different hepatitis viruses at the same time.

About 1 in every 100 people in Australia and around the world has hep C, and many people don’t know that they have it. People can have hep C and not know because it can take many years for symptoms to appear.
1.3 How do you get hep C?

Hep C is transmitted when blood from one person with hep C enters the blood stream of another person. This is called blood-to-blood contact. Even amounts of blood too small to see with your naked eyes can transmit the virus. There are lots of myths about how hep C is transmitted, so it is important to remember that:

You CAN get hep C by: High Risk
• Unsterile medical or dental procedures and traditional medical practices where the skin is pierced. In many countries this is the most common way that hep C is transmitted. The blood supply, vaccinations and medical procedures in Australia are safe.
• Re-using someone else’s injecting equipment for drugs, including steroids – this is the way hep C
is most commonly transmitted in Australia.
• Unsterile tattooing or body piercing.

Low Risk
• Needle stick injuries to health workers.
• Mother to child transmission may happen during pregnancy or childbirth if mother has hep C.
• Blood product transfusion in Australia before 1990.
• Re-using someone else’s personal items that may have blood on them, such as razors and toothbrushes.
• Blood-to-blood contact during sex.
• Needle stick injuries from discarded drug injecting needles in public places.

Hep C occurs in every country of the world. Risks are present in Australia, in your country of birth and in all other countries.

You CANNOT get hep C from:
• Sharing toilets
• Eating utensils or drinking glasses
• Coughing, sneezing, kissing or hugging
• Swimming pools
• Mosquitoes or other insect bites
1.4 What does hep C do?

• Of 100 people with hepatitis C
o One in four will get rid of the virus naturally within the first 12 months.
o The remaining 75% will continue to have the virus in their body but may experience no obvious symptoms.
o Without medical treatment, about 30 of them will develop symptoms, which will become noticeable between 10 to 15 years after becoming infected.
o After 20 years, about 10 will have developed serious liver disease without treatment. Five of these will have developed liver failure or liver cancer.

Many people do not get symptoms of hep C. If someone does get symptoms, the most common ones are: tiredness (fatigue), nausea and abdominal pains.

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