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Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver – this can be caused by many things including Hepatitis C. There are several other hepatitis viruses – the ones we deal with most are A, B and C.
Injecting drugs is the main way Hepatitis C is spread but in HIV+ people things are a bit more complicated.
We know Hepatitis C can be spread through sex and that the risk in HIV+ gay men is higher. Traumatic sex (sex that causes bleeding), group sex and sex while using recreational drugs all make the risk higher. There have been some studies, however, suggesting non-traumatic sex can also be a risk.
Hep C survives for many days outside the body eg on needles, in water and in lube.
In the early acute phase of the infection most people don’t feel anything. However others experience ‘viral symptoms’ such as aches, fever, fatigue and feeling generally unwell. A few get significant liver inflammation, which can lead to jaundice – yellowing of skin and eyes.
Some people clear the virus themselves within six months but most don’t and develop chronic (long-term) infection. Untreated Hepatitis C can lead fibrosis – scarring of the liver – which can then progress to cirrhosis of the liver. Not everyone with Hep C gets these complications but people with cirrhosis have a higher chance of getting liver cancer.
All Bloomsbury patients at risk of Hepatitis C are tested annually. We also monitor your liver function each time you have blood tests – this may be the first sign that you have hepatitis C. If you feel you have put yourself at risk tell the person taking your blood so we can do a different test which can detect Hepatitis C earlier. Bloomsbury patients can walk in and ask for a Hep C test during clinic hours or make an appointment on 020 3317 5100
If you are HIV-negative, attend our sexual health service and feel you have put yourself at risk, tell us and we can will do a Hep C test for you. Ring for an appointment on 020 3317 5100
At the moment there are only 4 drugs routinely available to treat Hepatitis C. The standard treatment is Pegylated Interferon (a weekly injection) and Ribavirin (daily tablets) given for 6-12 months. Some people may be offered Telaprevir or Boceprevir in addition to the other drugs.
Sofosbuvir and Simeprevir have now been licensed but we are awaiting guidance from NHS England about how and when we can use them. New drugs are available to people with very severe liver disease but are unlikely to be widely available for another year or two.
Although current treatments are not ideal, with careful support and monitoring most people do well and clear the virus. If your liver is healthy your clinic may just monitor you closely and advise you to wait until new drugs are available – and it is always worth asking about research trials.
Yes. Hepatitis C treatment does NOT protect you from getting infected again. You can get vaccines against Hep A & hep B but not against Hep C.
How can I protect myself and others?
We would definitely recommend condoms if you have Hep C or are having sex with someone who does not know their Hep C status.
We recommend using gloves for fisting and sex toys should be cleaned with a dilute solution of bleach or on the standard cycle of your dishwasher! Use individual sachets of lube or a bottle with a dispenser, not a shared tub. Don’t share needles, water, filters or snorting equipment. If you are getting a tattoo don’t forget to check the ink is sterile, not just the needle.
Hep C Specialist Nurse
020 3317 5111
Peer Support & Patient Representatives
020 3317 5177
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