Hepatitis C

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  • What is it? The Hepatitis strain are viruses and are identified by letters of the alphabet e.g. Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, etc. Hepatitis C is inflammation of the liver. This can be caused by alcohol and some drugs, but usually it is the result of a viral infection. In 2004 there were an estimated 8,000 cases in England and Wales. Early stage Hepatitis C is known as ‘acute’ Hepatitis . Later stage and more serious Hepatitis C is known as ‘chronic’.
  • Symptoms: People may have no symptoms at all but can still pass on the virus to others. It is estimated that 80% of Hepatitis C carriers don’t realise they are infected. Symptoms may include: A short, flu-like illness, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, weight loss, dark urine, jaundice in a small number of cases and itchy skin. The 20% that show symptoms can suffer these symptoms between 1 and 6 months after infection. Chronic Hepatitis C sets in for about 80% of people who have acute Hepatitis C. The symptoms of chronic Hepatitis C include fatigue and tenderness below the right-hand ribs. Over the long term, chronic Hepatitis C can cause serious liver damage, including liver failure. 20% of those infected clear the virus from the blood. The other 80% remain infected and pass it on to others. Untreated this can develop into Chronic Hepatitis, Liver cirrhosis, Liver cancer and a few people experience recurrent attacks of flu-like illness
  • Transmission: The Hepatitis C virus can be spread by: sharing contaminated needles or other equipment for injecting drugs, using unsterilised equipment for tattooing, acupuncture or body piercing, unprotected penetrative sex (where the penis enters the vagina or anus) or sex which draws blood much in the same way as HIV is passed although this is relatively rare but possible, unprotected oral sex (from mouth to the genitals) and through blood transfusion in a country where blood is not tested for HCV (all blood for transfusion in the UK is tested). As mentioned, it is very rare for Hepatitis C to spread through sex. In theory it can be caught through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex but the chances of this happening appear to be small.
  • Treatment: Hepatitis C is diagnosed by a blood test and samples can be taken to look at the particular strain of Hepatitis C which someone has, because treatment is more effective for some strains than for others. The first test will show whether an individual has ever been exposed to HCV and a further blood test is necessary to establish whether they remain infected. Those who have a current infection should be referred for further assessment which will include liver function tests (LFTs) and may include a biopsy (taking a small sample of liver tissue for examination). 
    Medical treatment is a drug called alpha interferon. This treatment is not suitable for everybody but some patients can be successfully treated and will clear the virus. Some people find that some complementary therapies are helpful in controlling their symptoms, but there is currently no scientific evidence to support this. Some people may need to be admitted to hospital.
  • Post Treatment: Having an active infection with Hepatitis C, requires regular blood tests and physical check-ups. All carriers are referred to specialist services. Hepatitis C sufferers should limit the amount of alcohol they drink and avoid fatty foods and follow a low-salt. Click here for a list of agencies you can contact should you require further information or help.

If there are any health workers that could help us keep our pages updated please mail us as we are very aware that new research and information is constantly being published on Hepatitis C. Your help would be much appreciated.

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