What is hepatitis?
Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are both viruses in your blood that can badly damage your liver.
Viruses in the blood are also known as blood borne viruses. Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are some of the most common blood borne viruses in the UK.
How you catch hepatitis
You can catch hepatitis in several ways:
- Sharing needles or other drug related items
- Tattooing or piercing with dirty equipment that hasn't been sterilised
- Sharing a toothbrush, razor or hair clippers - hepatitis C can stay on them for 4 days
- Rough or anal sex with someone who has hepatitis
- Medical or dental tools that haven't been sterilised properly
- Injuring yourself on a hypodermic needle
Most cases of hepatitis C in the UK involve people who have injected drugs, including anabolic steroids.
Other items, such as spoons or pipes, can also spread hepatitis if they've been in contact with infected blood. Hepatitis C can survive for 63 days inside a syringe. It's also 6 times more likely to be transmitted than HIV.
Hepatitis B is very infectious, and can also be spread through sharing needles. It can survive outside the body for up to a week, so you can even catch it from dried blood.
The symptoms of hepatitis
With hepatitis B, often there aren't any symptoms, or you might feel like you have a mild flu. The virus can disappear without you ever noticing. Sometimes, people have more serious symptoms and need to go to a hospital. These include jaundice, where the skin turns yellow, and diarrhoea.
With hepatitis C, again sometimes people have no symptoms, or have mild symptoms for a few weeks, including fever, tiredness, no appetite, and vomiting. People can live with hepatitis C for years or decades without knowing it. This can cause serious liver damage. Signs of this are jaundice, pain in the stomach, aches in your joints and muscles, itching, tiredness, and memory problems. If it's not treated, it can even lead to liver cancer.
Vaccination for hepatitis
You can be vaccinated against hepatitis B. This is available to all our service users, or from your local doctor if you're in an 'at risk' category.
The NHS explains that people 'at risk' include healthcare workers, people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men, and people travelling to parts of the world where hepatitis is common.
There is no vaccination for hepatitis C.
Getting tested for hepatitis and HIV
If you're using one of our services, you can get free, easy access to testing for blood borne viruses, including hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV.
If you're not in treatment but use one of our needle exchanges, you can also get tested there.
To test you, we take a tiny blood sample by pricking your finger. If the test shows that you've got a blood borne virus, we can help you get specialist treatment.
If you're worried about hepatitis or HIV, your key worker will give you support and advice. If you're not using one of our services, you can usually get tested for blood borne viruses via your doctor or a sexual health clinic.
Get tested. Get treated.
Take a look at our video to find out more about testing and treatment for hepatitis C.
Treatment for hepatitis
If you find out that you have hepatitis B quickly, you can usually get treatment to help the symptoms while your body fights the infection.
If you've had hepatitis B for longer than 6 months, you can get treatment that will control it and stop your liver getting damaged.
Some people who get hepatitis C will fight it off themselves in about 6 months. If you don't, there's a new treatment available in the UK.
With the medicine available at the moment, most people with hepatitis C can be cured with no side effects.
If you're using drugs or alcohol, you can still get treatment for hepatitis C. You'll usually need to take a tablet every day for 8-12 weeks. This works better than the old option of getting treated by injections, and doesn't have the same unpleasant side effects.
You can still catch hepatitis C again after you've been treated for it. It's important to take steps to prevent catching it again.
At Change Grow Live, we're working with the NHS so we can provide hepatitis C treatment at our services, without you having to go to a doctors' surgery or hospital. Speak to one of the team at your local service to find out more.