The Little Book
Hep C Facts
Hepatitis C is a liver disease. It is caused by a virus that is found in the blood. Over time hepatitis C may lead to liver scarring and serious disease.
There are many strains (genotypes) of hepatitis C. The most common genotypes in Australia are 1, 2 and 3.
There are tests which can tell what genotype of hepatitis C you have. You can get more than one genotype at a time.
The hepatitis C virus is different to HIV/AIDS. Having hepatitis C does not lead to, or protect against HIV/AIDS.
You get hepatitis C when blood carrying the virus enters your bloodstream.
In Australia, the most common way of getting hepatitis C is by sharing any drug injecting equipment, including spoons, tourniquets and filters.
You may also get hepatitis C from: â€˘ transfusions of blood and blood products (such as plasma, platelets, red cells and antibodies) before 1990 when testing for hepatitis C virus in blood began.
â€˘ medical, dental and cosmetic procedures using unsterilised equipment, particularly in countries where infection control is lax.
â€˘ tattooing and body piercing with unsterilised equipment, â€˘ sharing drug equipment which may be exposed to blood with the hepatitis C virus, e.g. snorting straws.
â€˘ cultural and religious rituals and sports where there is blood to blood contact. In sports, it is important to stick to the blood rule.*
*An athlete who has an open wound, is bleeding, or who has blood on body or clothes, must immediately leave the playing area to receive medical attention. Though they may be able to play again later, they cannot go back and play again until the wound is taken care of, bleeding has stopped, and all contaminated equipment replaced.
The risk of getting hepatitis C through personal items like toothbrushes and razors is low but it is best not to share these items anyway.
Hepatitis C is NOT a sexually transmitted infection. However, when blood is present during sex, there is an increased risk of transmission. Hugging and kissing is ok.
Itâ€™s perfectly ok to share food, drinks and cutlery with someone who has hepatitis C.
You canâ€™t catch hepatitis C from toilet seats, mosquitoes or swimming pools.
The risk of mothers passing hepatitis C to their unborn child is very low. Women who are hepatitis C positive may safely breastfeed.
Hepatitis C can be prevented by taking standard infection control precautions when blood is present.
Photograph by Ian Hitchcock
Some people may have flu-like symptoms when they were first infected but many people living with long-term hepatitis C have no symptoms.
Even for people who do have symptoms, these may not show until 15 years or more after they first got the virus.
The most common signs of long-term hepatitis C infection are tiredness, lack of energy, nausea and discomfort around the liver area.
Number of Australians living with hepatitis C*: ACT
*Annual Surveillance Report 2015 Kirby Institute, p 60.
Australia-wide, an estimated 230,500 people are living with hepatitis C.*
*Annual Surveillance Report 2015, Kirby Institute p58.
Each year about 10,600 people in Australia are diagnosed with hepatitis C.
*Annual Surveillance Report 2015, Kirby Institute, p66.
Hepatitis C is the leading cause for liver transplants in Australia.
There are two tests for hepatitis C: â€˘ Antibody test A positive result means you have contracted hepatitis C virus at some time in your life but it may not mean that you still have the virus.
â€˘ PCR test This is used to detect current hepatitis C infection and genotype/s. A positive result means you have the hepatitis C virus in your body.
Under the law you don’t need to tell if you have hepatitis C unless you are: • a member of, or applying to join, the Australian Defence Force, • a healthcare worker undertaking exposure-prone procedures, eg. dentist, surgeon, theatre nurse. • donating blood,
27 â€˘ asked when applying for life or health insurance, or â€˘ asked when participating in combat sports such as mixed martial arts.
It is against the law to refuse someone services or treat them badly because she/he has hepatitis C.
One out of four people are able to rid their bodies of the virus within 6 to 12 months without treatment. This does not protect against future infection by the same, or a different, genotype.
Photograph by Dani McCreery
There is no vaccination against hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C can be cured. 9 out of 10 people who are treated can get rid of the virus.
A person is cured of hepatitis C when the virus cannot be found in her/ his blood with a PCR test, 6 months after treatment ends.
Even if you have been cured of hepatitis C, you can become infected again. Successful treatment does not protect you against hepatitis C.
There is a higher risk of liver damage if you have hepatitis C and drink alcohol.
35 Smoking tobacco can make your liver disease progress faster.
Long-term smoking of cannabis has been shown to increase liver scarring in people with hepatitis C, but moderate short-term use of cannabis during treatment may help manage side-effects.
*Influence of cannabis use on severity of hepatitis C disease, Ishida JH et al, Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology Jan 2008, 69-75. **Cannabis use improves retention and virological outcomes in patients treated for hepatitis C, Sylvestre DL et al, European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology 2006, 18:1057â€“10
Hepatitis C reduces saliva in your mouth and this may result in unhealthy gums and teeth.
If you have hepatitis C, getting hepatitis A or B can worsen your liver disease. People with hepatitis C are urged to get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B.
Hepatitis SA Helpline • 1800 437 222 Hepatitis SA • www.hepsa.asn.au • March 2016 • Hepatitis SA would like to thank: • Bonnie Brodie, Colleen Brodie, Margaret Brodie and other Taoundi artists for their artwork, • the Grannies Group, the Sophia Aunties, Stanley Geebung and Justin Greenhalgh for their invaluable contribution to the text in this booklet.
Published on Apr 1, 2014
Published on Apr 1, 2014
Basic hepatitis C facts in digestible chunks. Revised version with indigenous art. Printed copies of this booklet are available from Hepatit...