Hepatitis C

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. The liver is in the top right corner of the abdominal area. Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that affects the liver, it is sometimes called ‘Hep C’. Hepatitis C is slow-acting and, if untreated, can lead to liver damage, liver failure or cancer. The main risk for hepatitis C infection is injecting drugs. If you have ever injected drugs, ask your doctor or health care worker about getting a hepatitis C test.

Signs and symptoms

Most people don't have any symptoms at first, or have a mild, flu-like illness. Sometimes the person's urine becomes dark, and their skin and whites of their eyes turn yellow (jaundice). Hepatitis C symptoms can disappear within a few weeks but this does not always mean that the infection has also disappeared. When the hepatitis C virus remains in a person’s body, this is called chronic hepatitis C.

Symptoms of chronic hepatitis C include:

  • mild to severe tiredness
  • no appetite
  • feeling unwell and vomiting
  • soreness under the ribs
  • fever
  • joint pain.

Risk factors

You can only get hepatitis C when blood infected with the virus comes into direct contact with your blood. This might happen when you use items that have been contaminated with another person's blood such as:

  • drug injecting equipment
  • body piercing equipment and jewellery
  • tattooing tools and inks.

You can also get hepatitis C from sharing personal hygiene items, such as razors, toothbrushes, dental floss and nail-clippers, as they can have traces of blood on them.
Hepatitis C is not easily passed on during sex. The risk is highest when blood-to-blood contact happens during sex; for example, sex with an infected female during her period or when two people have unprotected sex (sex without a condom) that damages the skin, such as during anal sex.

Treatment

New and effective treatments are available for hepatitis C. See your doctor or sexual health clinic for more information. Whether a person with hepatitis C is on treatment or not, a healthy diet, lots of sleep and avoiding alcohol, tobacco and other drugs are also important to keep well.

Prevention

  • The best way to reduce the risk of getting hepatitis C is not to inject drugs. If you choose to inject drugs, avoid sharing needles, syringes or any drug injecting equipment. Always use your own new, sterile needles and syringes and sterile water. Also use your own spoon, swabs, filters, and tourniquets. Wash your hands or wipe your fingers with a new alcohol swab before and after injecting yourself or another person. You can get needles and syringes from most chemists, needle and syringe exchanges, and at country hospitals after hours. Go to Healthy WA (external site) for more information
  • before considering any body art (such as tattooing or piercing) make sure the body artist uses only sterilised equipment, and new razors, inks and needles each time.
  • don’t share personal hygiene items, such as razors, combs, nail brushes, and toothbrushes as they can carry traces of blood.
  • clean and cover any bleeding cuts and grazes immediately.
  • always use condoms and water-based lubricant.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C.

For more information about hepatitis C, contact Hepatitis WA on (08) 9328 8538 Metro (1800 800 070 Country free call) or info@hepatitiswa.com.au or go to Hepatitis WA (external site)

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