Hepatitis C is a virus that can infect the liver. If left untreated, it can sometimes cause serious and potentially life-threatening damage to the liver over many years.
You can become infected with hepatitis C if you come into contact with the blood of an infected person.
People who inject drugs, including illegal recreational drugs and performance-enhancing drugs such as anabolic steroids, are at the highest risk of becoming infected with hepatitis C.
Other bodily fluids can also contain the virus, but blood contains the highest level of it. Hepatitis C can also be transmitted during unprotected sex without using a condom, although this risk is considered very low with vaginal sex. The risk of transmission through sex may be higher with anal sex and amongst men who have sex with men (MSM).
The risk is also increased if there are genital sores or ulcers from a sexually transmitted infection or if either person also has HIV.
Many people with hepatitis C don't have any symptoms and are unaware they have the infection. They may develop symptoms later on as their liver becomes increasingly damaged.
Around one in every three or four people will have any symptoms during the early stages of acute hepatitis C infection. Symptoms may include:
- jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
- flu-like symptoms, such as muscle aches and a high temperature, abdominal pain, and feeling and being sick
When symptoms occur they can be mistaken for another condition. The only way to know for certain if these symptoms are caused by hepatitis C is to get tested.
Testing for Hepatitis C can be included in our standard STI screening offer if risks are identified. If you think you may have been exposed to the virus we recommend you get tested as soon as possible.
If you think you need a test for hepatitis C you can:
- book an appointment online (follow 'testing for an STI' from the list)
- freephone 0300 123 5474 (8.00am - 8.00pm, 7 days a week)
- come along to one of our walk-in and wait clinics*
If your risk is due to substance misuse testing is also available at Wirral Ways to Recovery.
*Our walk-in and wait clinics offer limited slots and operate on a first come first served basis. When clinics are at full capacity, patients asking to be seen will be triaged and those who fit our urgent criteria will be a priority. At busy times we may need to signpost non-urgent cases to other clinics or recommend patients make an appointment for an alternative day or suggest a return visit.
Hepatitis C can be treated with medicines that stop the virus multiplying inside the body. If the virus is successfully cleared with treatment, it's important to be aware that you're not immune to the infection. This means, that you could become infected again.
There's no vaccine for hepatitis C. Reduce your risk by:
- not sharing any drug-injecting equipment with other people - including needles and other equipment such as syringes, spoons and filters
- not sharing razors or toothbrushes that might be contaminated with blood
- Using a condom. The risk of getting hepatitis C through sex is very low. However, it may be higher if blood is present, such as minor bleeding during anal sex or if you engage in chemsex (using drugs to help or enhance sex) as it can be associated with risky sexual behaviours, such as having lots of different sexual partners and not using condoms