Hepatitis C is a virus that can infect the liver.If left untreated,it can sometimes cause serious and potentially life-threatening damage tothe liver over many years.

However, with modern treatments it's often possible to cure the infection, and most people with it will have a normal life expectancy.

It's estimated around 215,000 people inthe UKhave hepatitis C.

You can become infected withit if you come into contact with the blood of an infected person.

Symptoms of hepatitis C

Hepatitis C often doesn't have any noticeable symptoms until the liver has been significantly damaged. This means many people have the infection without realising it.

When symptoms do occur, they can be mistaken for another condition. Symptoms can include:

  • flu-like symptoms , such asmuscle achesand a high temperature (fever)
  • feeling tired all the time
  • loss of appetite
  • tummy (abdominal) pain
  • feeling and being sick

The only way to know for certain if these symptoms are caused by hepatitis C is to get tested.

Some ways the infection can be spread include:

  • sharing unsterilised needles particularly needles used to inject recreational drugs
  • sharing razors or toothbrushes
  • from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby
  • through unprotected sex although this is very rare

In the UK, most hepatitis C infections occur in people who inject drugs or have injected them in the past. It's estimated around half of those who inject drugs have the infection.

Getting tested for hepatitis C

Seek medical advice if you have persistent symptoms of hepatitis C or there's a risk you're infected, even if you don't have any symptoms. A blood test can be carried out to see if you have the infection.

Your local GP, sexual health clinic,genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic or drug treatment service all offer testing for hepatitis C.

Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent or limit any damage to your liver,as well as help ensure the infection isn't passed on to other people.

Treatments forhepatitis C

Hepatitis C can be treated with a combination of medicines that stop the virus multiplying inside the body. These usually need to be taken for several months.

Most people will take two main medications called pegylated interferon (a weekly injection) and ribavirin (a capsule or tablet), although newer tablet-only treatments are likely to replace the interferon injections for most people in the near future.

These newer hepatitis C medications have been found to make treatment more effective. They include simeprevir, sofosbuvir and daclatasvir.

Using the latest medications, up to 90% or more of people with hepatitis C may be cured.

However, it's important to be aware that you won't be immune to the infection and should take steps to reduce your risk of becoming infected again.

However, it may be higherifblood is present, such as menstrual blood or from minor bleeding during anal sex.

Condoms aren't usually necessary to prevent hepatitis C for long-term heterosexual couples, but it's a good idea to use them when having anal sex or sex with a new partner.

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 29 Nov 2016