Hepatitis C is a virus that can infect the liver. You can become infected with it if you come into contact with the blood of an infected person (blood-to-blood contact).
There is a cure for hepatitis C. Nearly all people with hepatitis C can be cured and treatment is free.
Without treatment, hepatitis C can damage the liver over many years.
Symptoms of hepatitis C
Many people who are infected with hepatitis C do not know it. Hepatitis C often does not have any obvious symptoms until the liver is very damaged.
The only way to know that you have hepatitis C is to get tested.
Some symptoms of hepatitis C can be present in other conditions, such as:
- flu-like symptoms
- feeling tired all the time
- loss of appetite
- stomach ache
- feeling sick and vomiting
Non-urgent advice: Contact your GP if:
- you have any of these symptoms that do not go away
Some people with hepatitis C can also develop jaundice. Jaundice is when your skin or the whites of your eyes turn yellow.
Non-urgent advice: Ask your GP for an urgent appointment if:
- your skin or the white part of your eyes looks yellow
If your GP is not available, contact a GP out of hours or go to your nearest emergency department (ED).
How hepatitis C is spread
The hepatitis C virus is usually spread through blood-to-blood contact.
Some ways the infection can be spread include:
- sharing unsterilised needles
- sharing razors or toothbrushes
- during pregnancy to an unborn baby
- through unprotected sex - but this is very rare
In Ireland, most hepatitis C infections happen in people who inject drugs or have injected drugs in the past.
Blood and organ donations before October 1991
Hepatitis C was discovered in 1989. Since October 1991, all blood donated in Ireland is checked for the hepatitis C virus. Since 1992, all organ donations are tested for hepatitis C.
There's a small chance you may have been infected with hepatitis C if you had:
- a blood transfusion or blood products before October 1991
- an organ transplant before 1992
Getting tested for hepatitis C
To get a hepatitis C test, you can:
- order a free hepatitis C test to do at home
- ask your GP
- use a testing service at a sexual health clinic
Treatment for hepatitis C
Hepatitis C can be treated with medicines that stop the virus multiplying inside the body.
Treatment is usually taking direct-acting antiviral (DAA) tablets for 8 to 12 weeks. Using these medicines, more than 95% of people with hepatitis C may be cured.
Treatment does not make you immune to hepatitis C. But there are things you can do to reduce your risk of becoming infected again.
Complications of hepatitis C
If the infection is left untreated for many years, some people with hepatitis C will develop scarring of the liver (cirrhosis).
Over time, this can cause the liver to stop working properly.
In severe cases, life-threatening problems can eventually develop, such as:
- liver failure, where the liver loses most or all of its functions
- liver cancer
Treating hepatitis C as early as possible can help reduce the risk of these problems happening.
Preventing hepatitis C
There's no vaccine for hepatitis C, but there are ways to reduce your risk of becoming infected.
To protect yourself from hepatitis C:
- do not share any drug-injecting equipment ('works') with other people - this includes needles, syringes, spoons and filters
- do not share razors or toothbrushes that might be contaminated with blood
The risk of getting hepatitis C through sex is very low. But it may be higher if blood is present, such as period blood or from minor bleeding during anal sex.
It's a good idea to use condoms when having anal sex or sex with a new partner.
Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE