Be Safe.

Hepatitis C or Hep C

{Hep-ah-tigh-tus See}


Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver caused by one of many hepatitis viruses. Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). It is different from hepatitis A and hepatitis B.

Some people clear the hepatitis C virus from their body, meaning it goes away on its own. Most people (75% to 85% of the time) will not clear the virus and hepatitis C can become a long-term chronic condition. Treatment for HCV is becoming more widely available and more successful.

How do I get it?

  • Hepatitis C can be transmitted contaminated needles and equipment for snorting, inhaling or preparing an injection.
  • Having unprotected sex when blood is present
  • Having sex with someone who is HCV positive
  • Sharing toothbrushes, dental floss, razors, nail files, or other items that have blood on them
  • Tattoos, body-piercing, acupuncture or electrolysis if the equipment is not sterile
  • Unprotected sexual intercourse, especially when a person has a sexually transmitted infection or is HIV positive
  • Had a blood transfusion prior to 1992

Hepatitis C is not spread by casual contact such as hugging, kissing, sneezing, coughing, or sharing food or drinks. It is also not spread by insect bites or swimming in a treated pool when you have cuts, scrapes or are menstruating.

Currently there is no data to suggest that hepatitis C is passed in human breast milk. Breastfeeding is encouraged, except when the nipples are cracked or bleeding.

Symptoms

Many people with hepatitis C experience no symptoms and feel healthy. For many, symptoms don’t show at all for 20 years or more. When symptoms do show up, they are the often the following:

The first six months after exposure to hepatitis C is called the acute stage. Many people will have no or very few symptoms during the acute phase, but over time may notice:

  • Fever
  • Feeling tired
  • Muscle pain
  • Loss of appetite and nausea
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine

Chronic Infection

  • Jaundice
  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Blood in stools
  • Blood in vomit
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Depression
  • Weight loss
  • Itchy skin
  • Brain disease

Is it curable?

Yes, Hep C is curable. In about 20% of people the virus is eradicated from the body without treatment. New medications taken daily for 8-12 weeks present a cure for over 95% of people.

Treatment

People with hepatitis C should see their health care provider every 6 to 12 months. Even if people with HCV feel well and have no symptoms, the virus can still be damaging the liver.

Treatment for hepatitis C can cure about 90% of those treated. In rare cases, people who have liver damage may need a liver transplant.

Treatment is complex. There are several drug combinations that have been approved by Health Canada for people with hepatitis C.

Other goals are to prevent progression of the liver disease.

People infected Hepatitis C should see their healthcare provider to decide on a plan to monitor the health of their liver. Even if people infected with Hep C feel well and have no symptoms, the virus can still have caused damage to the liver. In rare cases people may need a liver transplant.

Treatment is effective in curing over 95% of those people infected with Hep C. Treatment includes taking one or two pills every day for 8-12 weeks.  The medications have very few side effects. Completing treatment prevents spreading Hep C to others and may prevent further damage to the liver.

Complications

After a long period of time, some people with hepatitis C may develop cirrhosis, liver cancer, or may need a liver transplant.

People can be re-infected.

 

Tests and Diagnosis

Finding out if you have hepatitis C involves two blood tests:

  • An HCV antibody test
  • A PCR test is done when the antibody test is positive, to see if the virus has been cleared

Most test results are accurate 10 weeks after contact with hepatitis C.

 

Can I still have sex?

Yes, but you may have to make some adjustments:

  • Use condoms.
  • As hep C is spread through the blood, sex should be avoided if either partner is bleeding.
  • Avoid dry sex (use lubricant) or rougher sex that may cause tiny tears or cuts.
  • Be really careful during anal sex. Good preparation, lubricant and condoms reduce risk.

Although, the risk of passing on hep C through sex is generally low, you could still get other STIs through unprotected sex, which may make it easier to pass on hep C. Using condoms for oral, vaginal, and anal sex will help reduce these risks even further.

Other resources


What to expect when
getting tested

Get comfortable with the process.

  • What to bring
    to your
    appointment
  • What will
    you be
    asked?
  • What the
    tests
    involve

What to bring
to your
appointment

Your name and contact details and questions about your sexual history.

  • A form of ID (driver's license, passport)
  • Your health care card

What will
you be
asked?

Questions about your recent sexual history.

When you last had sex, whether it was unprotected, what kind of symptoms you have...

What the
tests
involve

A few different potential tests involve procedures that aren’t a huge deal.

Pelvic exams, swab tests, blood tests and or urine tests

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