Hepatitis C (hep C) is a disease that is caused by the hepatitis C virus. The virus lives in the liver and can cause severe scarring and damage to the liver which can have long-lasting health effects.
Hep C is spread when the blood of an infected person enters the blood of an uninfected person. According to Hepatitis NSW, roughly 230,000 Australians have contracted hep C via the sharing of drug injecting equipment, contaminated medical procedures (prior to 1990) or medical procedures overseas.
How do I know if I have hep C if there can be no symptoms?
Many people have no symptoms when they are first infected with hep C, so you might not know if you have been infected. For those who do feel ill they may get nausea, tiredness, or loss of appetite. Hep C can be diagnosed with simple blood tests and should be considered if you:
- Have injected drugs
- Been in prison
- Have had a blood transfusion, blood product or organ transplant in Australia before February 1990
- Have a tattoo or body piercing
- Have emigrated from a country where hep C is widespread
- Are male and have sex with men
- Are born to a mother who was hep C positive during her pregnancy
- Have a needle-stick injury
- Have abnormal liver function tests or are experiencing hep C symptoms
Can Hep C be cured?
Hep C can be easily cured with new treatments called direct acting antivirals (DAAs). For every 20 people treated, 19 will be cured. Once cured from hep C, you should no longer have hep C symptoms and treatment may reverse the damage to your liver. However, if hep C has already caused damage to the liver, clearing your hep C might not mean that you feel healthy straight away. You might need to see a doctor or specialist for ongoing monitoring and you will still have a risk of liver complications, even after clearing your hep C.
When it comes to treatment, there are a range of different medications. Your doctor will recommend the best option for you depending on your treatment assessment and there is no need for a liver biopsy.
Should I start treatment?
There has never been a better time to get your hep C treated. The treatment usually lasts for 12 weeks, has very few side effects and is taken in tablet form, so there are no injections and you don't need to get a liver biopsy before starting treatment.
Treatments for hep C can now be prescribed by GPs and doctors at hospital liver clinics. Inside prison, treatment can be prescribed by clinic nurses or doctors.
Can I start treatment if I'm using drugs?
Yes, even if you are currently injecting drugs, you can get start hep C treatment. If you have a history of drug and alcohol use and are unsure of whether now is the right time to begin treatment, call the Hepatitis Infoline on 1800 803 990 for advice.
The Let's Talk counselling service also offers free support to people in NSW affected by hep B or C related liver disease, their family and carers. Counselling can be delivered face-to-face, via Skype or over the phone. For more support and treatment information, check out our Getting Help section here.
What if treatment doesn't work?
The new hep C treatments have a 95 per cent rate of curing the disease. There are a very small number of cases where treatment does not work and you may be referred to a liver specialist who will talk to you about the best treatment for you.
It's important to remember:
- There is no limit on how many times you can access treatment
- There is no evidence to suggest that, if treatment didn't work the first time, it's never going to work
- Liver specialists will do everything they can to ensure you are cured of hep C
What is Hepatitis NSW?
Hepatitis NSW is a not-for-profit health promotion charity funded by the NSW Ministry of Health which connects patients with doctors who can prescribe hepatitis C treatment.
Hepatitis NSW have worked proactively with GPs and pharmacists to build an online NSW-wide directory of services for people with hep C to access treatment locally and visit a GP close to them for testing and ongoing hep C management.
For more information about Hepatitis NSW visit www.hep.org.au or to speak to someone who has experienced hep C treatment call 1800 803 990 today.