Hepatitis C is a blood borne virus that damages the liver. Many people infected with hepatitis C are completely unaware of it because of the often silent nature of the infection. If you are infected for a long time (chronic infection) without it being diagnosed, it can become very serious.
How you get it
Hepatitis C is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact (this is when the blood of an infected person enters the bloodstream of an uninfected person). Most new infections in Scotland are the result of sharing or cross contamination of injecting drug equipment.
Sexual transmission can occur too, especially through sex where bleeding is likely to result.
How can I prevent it?
If you inject drugs, or use steroid injections to enhance body building, you should use clean equipment every time you inject and never share or allow others to touch any of your injecting equipment – needles, syringes, swabs, spoons, filters, water or anything else you use to prepare and inject drugs.
During sex, condoms and lube greatly reduces the risk of transmission.
Reduce the risk of a condom bursting by:
making sure it's properly unrolled
squeezing the air out of the 'teat' before putting it on
keeping your fingernails short and smooth
using lube suitable for use with condoms
never using oils, oil-based lubricants, or oily foodstuffs during sex
The risks from oral sex can be reduced if you:
always use a fresh condom
avoid oral sex if there are any signs of infection
avoid oral sex if the person giving it has any cuts or sores in their mouth
Don’t share household items that might have come into contact with blood; such as razors, toothbrushes or nail scissors.
Having both HIV and hepatitis C at the same time (often called “co-infection”) can cause serious treatment complications.
How do I know if I have hepatitis C?
Many people have no symptoms and are often unaware they have the virus. Even if you have no symptoms, you can still pass the virus on to others.
Jaundice, diarrhoea and weight loss are the most common physical symptoms.
Other physical and mental symptoms can include feeling sick or generally unwell, an extreme tiredness and depression.
Is there treatment?
Treatments are now available that can cure hepatitis C. These effective treatments are much shorter, and with far fewer side effects compared to earlier treatments.
Treatment options are based on a number of factors including which strain of the virus you have, how well your liver is functioning, your age/sex, and how long you have had the infection.
Anti-viral drugs are nearly as effective even if you have a co-infection (infected with both hepatitis C and HIV).
For more information on hepatitis C, visit www.hepatitisscotlandc.org.uk