Hepatitis: testing, treatment and how to stay safe

Learn about hepatitis symptoms, if you're in a vulnerable position, and how to get tested and treated. 

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. They are sometimes called hep B and hep C. HIV is also a blood borne virus. 

Find out more about HIV

With the right testing and treatment, hepatitis B can be managed and hepatitis C can be cured.  

You can catch hepatitis C more than once. 

 

How you catch hepatitis 

Blood borne viruses are passed on from someone with the virus through blood or other bodily fluids, such as semen or vaginal fluid.  

You can catch hepatitis and other blood borne viruses in several ways: 

  • Sharing needles or other drug related items eg. spoons, water, filters, and notes and straws for snorting. 
  • Tattooing or piercing with dirty equipment that hasn't been sterilised eg. unlicensed procedures or tattoos done in prison. 
  • Sharing personal care items such as a toothbrush, razor or hair clippers. 
  • Engaging in chemsex. Find out more about chemsex here.
  • Rough or anal sex with someone who has hepatitis. 
  • Medical or dental tools that haven't been sterilised properly. 

Most cases of hepatitis C in the UK involve people who have injected drugs. 

Take a look at our advice for safer injecting advice

Most people who have a chronic infection of hepatitis B (one that lasts longer than 6 months) got the virus when they were children.  

 

The symptoms of hepatitis 

Hepatitis B 

With hepatitis B, often there aren't any symptoms, or you might feel like you have a mild flu. This could include tiredness, general aches and pains, high temperature, loss of appetite, feeling and being sick, diarrhoea, stomach pain, and yellow skin and eyes (jaundice). 

If hepatitis B isn’t treated it can damage your liver, including fibrosis and cirrhosis (scarring of your liver) and cancer.  

If you get hepatitis B as an adult, it can disappear on its own without any medical treatment. It is still important to get tested and to speak to medical professionals for advice.  

If you contracted the virus as a child, you will probably need life-long treatment to help stop liver damage. 

 

Hepatitis C 

With hepatitis C, 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. 

Hepatitis C can disappear on its own, but most people will need treatment. If you leave the virus and it doesn’t go away, it can cause serious long-term health problems.  

With treatment, hepatitis C can be cured.  

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This time it was different, I could sleep, I had an appetite, I could continue going to work. After 6 weeks, my hep C was completely cleared. I was cured.

Get vaccinated for hepatitis 

You can be vaccinated against hepatitis B. This is available to anyone using our services, 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 blood borne viruses 

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. You’ll receive a regular assessment and be offered a test every 12 months.  

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 and send this to Public Health England. Your results should be ready in 1-2 weeks.  

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. 

 

Getting treatment for hepatitis 

If you are living with hepatitis, your treatment will depend on whether you have hep B or hep C.  

Hepatitis is no longer treated with the medication Interferon. This treatment was used in the past and had unpleasant side effects, but it is not used anymore. 

All Change Grow Live services can help you to access hepatitis treatment.  

Hepatitis B 

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 are an adult, your body can get rid of the virus, but you might still feel the symptoms for a while.  

If you've had hepatitis B for longer than 6 months, you can get ongoing treatment that will control it and stop your liver getting damaged. 

Hepatitis C 

Hepatitis C can disappear on its own, but most people will need treatment. 

With the medicine available at the moment, most people with hepatitis C can be cured with no side effects. 

Your treatment will usually be a course of tablets called direct acting antivirals (DAA). You'll usually need to take a tablet every day for 8-12 weeks. 

If you're using drugs or alcohol, you can still get treatment for hepatitis C.  

You can still get hepatitis C again after you've been treated for it. It's important to take steps to prevent it in the future. 

The medicine used to treat hepatitis C can react with opiate substitute medication and stop them from working. If you’re taking HIV and opiate substitution medication, speak to your prescriber to make sure you’re on the right dose.  

At Change Grow Live, we're working with the NHS so that anyone who tests positive for hepatitis can access the treatment they need. 

Speak to one of the team at your local service to find out more. 

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