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 many different ways.
The liver is one of the body’s most important organs, performing many 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.
Possible progression of liver damage
Many people do not have any symptoms and are unaware they are infected with hep C. But 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 needles for injecting drugs – even once.
Hep C can be transmitted in many other ways 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. It takes two blood tests to find out.
Getting diagnosed and treated early can help reduce your chance of serious liver damage and other health problems that may be caused by the virus, as well as keeping it from spreading to someone else by blood contact.
If left untreated, chronic hep C can not only damage your liver – in some cases after many years, it can lead to cirrhosis (severe scarring of the liver), liver failure and sometimes liver cancer.
Treatment options are available and hepatitis C can be cured* (cleared from the body). Talk to your doctor today about getting tested.
If you think you should be tested, see your doctor so you can know for sure.
For further information about hep C, please talk to your doctor.
*Cure means that the hep C virus is not found in the blood 3 months after the end of treatment.
Diagnosed with Hepatitis C
If you have been diagnosed with hep C, taking care of your overall health, including your liver health, is important while you’re working with your doctor on treatment.
- Eat right
- Reduce or avoid alcohol
- Reduce any cannabis use
- Only take drugs prescribed by your doctor
Hep C treatment options
Treatments have advanced considerably and there are now oral treatments which offer the chance of curing* the virus for the majority of people living with hep C. Talk to your doctor today about getting tested.
As with all treatments there may be side effects. Your doctor will advise what’s best for you.
*You are considered cured when no detectable hep C virus is found in a blood test taken 3 months after treatment has finished.