What is hepatitis C?
‘Hepatitis’ is a general term for inflammation or swelling of the liver. ‘Hepatitis C’, also known as ‘hep C’, is inflammation of the liver that results from infection with the hepatitis C virus. The hep C virus can spread when infected blood (even microscopic amounts) enters your bloodstream. This can happen in different ways.
The liver is one of the body’s most important organs, performing vital functions which are essential to good health.
Many people who live with hep C have no symptoms and are not aware that they are infected, so over many years, the virus can cause damage to the liver which can lead to serious health problems.
If left untreated, chronic hep C can damage your liver. In some cases, after many years, this can lead to cirrhosis (severe scarring of the liver), liver failure and sometimes liver cancer.
Many people do not have any symptoms and are unaware they are infected with hep C
How do I know if I have hep C?
The hepatitis C virus is contagious and is spread when blood from a person infected with the hep C virus enters the bloodstream of someone who is not infected.
Infection can occur if you’ve been tattooed or had a body piercing with contaminated equipment or ink, if you had a blood transfusion in New Zealand before 1992, or if you’ve shared any contaminated equipment used to prepare and inject drugs – even once.
Hep C can be transmitted in other ways too and it’s common for people not to have any symptoms and therefore don’t know they are infected.
If symptoms do appear, they can be mild and non-specific and can include feeling tired, loss of appetite, muscle aches, joint pain, nausea, abdominal pain, fever and jaundice (yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes), dark urine and pale bowel motions.
We’ve put together a checklist of risk factors and symptoms to help you to assess whether you should get tested for hep C.
Why get tested?
The only way to know if you have hepatitis C is to get tested. A hep C test can be arranged during a regular visit with a healthcare professional or at a clinic.
In most cases, a healthcare professional will take a small amount of blood to see if you have been exposed to the hep C virus at some point in your life. It may not mean that you currently have hep C. If this test is positive, a second blood test is done to find out if you have the hep C infection right now.
Getting diagnosed early can prevent liver and health problems that may be caused by the virus as well as keeping it from spreading to someone else by blood contact.
If you think you should be tested, see your healthcare professional so you can know for sure.
Hep C treatment options
A new hep C infection does not always require treatment and some people can clear the infection within the first 6 months. If the new infection persists beyond this point, it is considered chronic and requires treatment.
A healthcare professional will be able to advise if treatment is required.
Current treatments for hep C, called direct-acting antiviral (DAA) regimens, are used to treat chronic hep C in New Zealand. DAAs help stop the virus from multiplying and spreading to other cells.
Today’s treatments are pills that can usually be taken for 8-24 weeks.
Diagnosed with hepatitis C
If you have been diagnosed with hep C, taking care of your overall health, including your liver health, is important. Your healthcare professional can advise you on managing your wellbeing following the diagnosis.
- Eat right
- Reduce or preferably avoid alcohol
Always speak to a healthcare professional before taking any medication or herbal remedies as some can be bad for your liver