Sexual & General Health
It's time to face up to hepatitis C, how we can avoid it and whether we need to be tested
With an estimated 250,000 people affected by the hepatitis C virus in the UK – that's four times more than the HIV virus – you'd expect many people to know about the disease. However, hepatitis C is a relatively new disease, which can cause serious liver damage, and the fact is many people do not know about it.
Here's the science bit. Unlike hepatitis A and B, there's no vaccine for hepatitis C. Therefore, it is important to avoid the risk of infection in the first place. Hepatitis C is carried in the blood and is spread mainly through contact with the blood of a person who has hepatitis C. For example, by sharing equipment for injecting drugs; through a blood transfusion in the UK before September 1991; through unprotected sex with someone who has hepatitis C; through medical and dental treatment abroad in countries in which there are inadequate infection control procedures in place; by having a tattoo, an ear or body piercing or acupuncture with equipment that is not sterile; and by sharing razors or toothbrushes which have been contaminated with the blood of someone who has hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C – The Facts
- Hepatitis C is mainly spread by direct contact with the blood of someone with the virus
- Most people with hepatitis C have no symptoms for many years so won't know that they are infected
- There is no vaccine but there is effective treatment
- Don't start injecting drugs or share equipment; avoid unprotected sex; don't have ear/body piercings or tattoos with unsterilised equipment; avoid sharing razors or toothbrushes
- GET TESTED IF YOU THINK YOU HAVE BEEN AT RISK
Most people who have hepatitis C have no symptoms for many years. However, the disease can affect the liver and, if untreated, can cause cirrhosis or liver cancer. But it's not all bad news: half of people who seek treatment can clear the virus, especially if they are diagnosed in the early stages of the disease.
There have been a small handful of celebrities who have come forward and admitted that they have contracted hepatitis C. the most famous case is Baywatch babe herself, Pamela Anderson, who contracted the disease through sharing a tattoo needle with her former husband Tommy Lee. Female entrepreneur and Body Shop founder Anita Roddick has also been diagnosed with hepatitis C after discovering that she was exposed to the virus during a blood transfusion in the seventies.
Only by talking openly about how to avoid infection and encouraging people at risk to get tested can the virus begin to take a nosedive. There's support, information and guidance available to help people who are concerned about hepatitis C. So facing up to hepatitis C can only be a good thing.
For more information log on to www.hepc.nhs.uk or call the information line on 0800 451 451.