What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis is a general term for inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis C, also known as hep C, is an infection of the liver that is caused by the hepatitis C virus. Hepatitis C is spread via blood-to-blood contact.
Am I at risk?
People who inject drugs or share equipment are at high risk of contracting hepatitis C. Hepatitis C has also been contracted from:
- Blood product transfusions before 1992.
- Unsterilised medical, dental and cosmetic procedures (particularly in countries with low levels of infection control).
- Unsterilised tattooing and body piercing.
Is hepatitis C common?
An estimated 3,000 Canberrans are infected with hepatitis C, and many of them don’t know they are infected.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis C?
The most common symptoms of hepatitis C are tiredness, nausea, discomfort around the abdomen and yellowing of the eyes and skin. But many people with hepatitis C don’t have any symptoms at all, and symptoms may not appear until 15 years or more after someone was initially exposed to the virus.
Why get tested for hepatitis C?
Even though you could have hepatitis C without any noticeable symptoms, hepatitis C could be causing damage to your liver – so it’s important to get tested if you think you could be at risk. If you have hepatitis C but don’t get tested and cured, you could also spread it to friends and family via blood-to-blood contact.
What does the test involve?
For most people, the test involves two simple blood tests. The first test will show whether you have hepatitis C antibodies. This is a finger prick test, or a blood test. If this test is positive, it means that you’ve been exposed to hepatitis C at some point in your life, whether it happened within the past few months or many years ago. If this test is positive, then a second test will check to see if you currently have the hepatitis C virus in your blood. If your first test is positive, it’s very important to get the second test.
If you have had hepatitis C before, there is only one test to see if you currently have the hepatitis C virus in your blood.
How quickly will I get the results?
You’ll get the results of the finger prick tests in less an hour.
Are the results confidential?
Yes – the finger prick test is completely confidential.
How soon after a positive can I start treatment?
The sooner the better – you can organise to start the treatment as soon as you test positive for the hepatitis C virus.
What is the treatment for hepatitis C?
Oral treatments that are available today can cure hepatitis C in up to 98% of cases. This means that within 8-12 weeks of starting the treatment, your blood will no longer contain the hepatitis C virus.
How much does the treatment cost?
The cost is usually $30 to $50. However, Hepatitis ACT will cover the cost of your treatment if you are suffering financial difficulties.
I don’t feel sick – would I still need treatment?
Having hepatitis C doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll experience symptoms or develop liver disease. But the longer you live with the virus, the more likely it is that you will have some degree of liver damage – so it’s really important to get tested if you think you could be at risk.
If I’m currently injecting drugs, can I still get treated?
Whether you are currently using, use just occasionally or haven’t used for 10 years, everyone can be treated for hep C. You don’t need to change your lifestyle. If you are someone who uses drugs, you won’t have to stop to be treated. If you drink alcohol, you don’t have to stop to be treated. If you have liver damage, you can be treated. If you have been treated before, you can be treated again. You can talk to a peer too if you want to know more about what it’s like.
What happens if hepatitis C is left untreated?
Untreated hepatitis C can cause serious illness and even death. It can lead to liver disease, liver failure and in some people, liver cancer.
Are there side effects to the treatment?
As with all medicines, there’s a possibility of side-effects, but most are mild and don’t last long. The most common side-effects of treatment are headaches, tiredness and nausea.
Can I get re-infected after treatment?
Being successfully treated for hepatitis C isn’t the same as being immunised against it. That means it is possible to be re-infected with hepatitis C if you’re exposed again after your treatment is complete.