St George’s viral hepatitis team encourage local people to get tested for hepatitis C
Today is World Hepatitis Day, and St George’s viral hepatitis team is encouraging local people to get tested for hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that can infect the liver. Left untreated, it can cause serious and potentially life-threatening damage to the liver over many years.
It’s known as a silent disease, because there are often no noticeable symptoms until the liver has been significantly damaged. As a result of this, many people have the infection without knowing.
There are approximately 6,000 people living with hepatitis C in South West London, with around half of them unaware they have the virus.
Treatment for hepatitis C is easier than ever, with tablet-only treatment available. A course of medicine can be as short as 8 weeks, with over 95% of people with hepatitis C being cured of the virus.
St George’s viral hepatitis team is working towards NHS England’s target of eliminating hepatitis C by 2025.
How do you get hepatitis C?
The hepatitis C virus is usually spread through blood-to-blood contact. Some risk factors for the virus include;
- If you received a blood transfusion or blood products before 1992
- If you are a resident or a regular visitor to high risk areas such as South Asia and Eastern Europe
- If you have ever injected drugs, even once
- Medical, dental or cosmetic procedures performed abroad
- Body piercing and tattooing
- Sharing toothbrushes or razors
Getting tested for hepatitis C
If you think you are at risk of hepatitis C and would like to get tested, please contact the viral hepatitis team, your community pharmacy or your GP for further details.
St George’s viral hepatitis team works with local community services to provide testing, treatment and education alongside our partners at the Hepatitis C Trust. If you are interested in setting up a testing or educational event in your local community group, please get in touch with the team.
The viral hepatitis team can be contacted via 0208 725 0758 or stgh-tr.HCVreferral@nhs.net.
Q. I’ve got hepatitis C but I haven’t had any symptoms or felt ill because of it. What does it actually do?
A. Most people infected with hepatitis C do not exhibit any symptoms at all, but left untreated the virus can cause liver scarring (commonly known as cirrhosis) and liver cancer.
Q. How do people get hepatitis C?
A. The most common route of infection is through intravenous drug use. So, if you’ve ever injected drugs, even just once, it is worth getting tested.
You may also be at risk of having the virus if you:
- received a blood transfusion or blood products before 1992
- share toothbrushes or razors
- have had any medical/dental/cosmetic procedures performed abroad, or often visit high risk areas such as South Asia and Eastern Europe.
Q. How long is the treatment for hepatitis C and does it have any side effects?
A. Older hepatitis C treatments lasted as long as a year and came with side effects such as insomnia, low mood and dizziness. Hepatitis C can now be treated with a simple course of oral tablets lasting 8-12 weeks that have very few side effects.
Some patients report mild headaches, fatigue and abdominal pain, but this is very rare.
Q. Once I’ve completed the treatment, am I immune from getting hepatitis C again?
A. No, treatment for hepatitis C won’t give you protection from reinfection.
Q. Can I clear hepatitis C myself, without treatment?
A. Up to 20% of people do clear hepatitis C spontaneously on their own. However, most people will not, and will end up needing treatment.
Q. What tests are there for hepatitis C?
A. An antibody test will tell you if you have ever been exposed to the virus. A PCR test can then determine if you have an active infection. Even after clearing the virus with treatment, an antibody test will continue to give a positive result.