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Overview

Hepatitis C is a virus that is present in an infected person’s blood and is usually transmitted through blood to blood contact with the infected individual. Hepatitis C is a virus carried in the bloodstream to the liver and it can affect and ultimately damage the liver. It can also affect other parts of the body such as the digestive system, the immune system and brain.  

It is estimated that there were almost 11,000 new cases reported of hepatitis C in England in 2012. In addition it is also estimated that around 215,000 people in the UK have chronic hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C is also more common in men than women as men are more likely to inject drugs. It is estimated that approximately 49% of people who inject drugs in England are thought to have hepatitis C.

Causes of hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is present in the blood of the infected person and is usually transmitted through contact with infected blood. It can be transferred by:

  1. Sharing unsterilized needles- for example while injecting drugs.
  2. Sharing razors or toothbrushes.
  3. Hepatitis C can also be transmitted through sexual intercourse but, this is extremely rare. The risk may be higher with men who have sexual intercourse with men.

Hepatitis C is more common in North Africa, the Middle East and Central and Eastern Asia. It is thought to result from the use of shared needles for vaccination and medical treatment.

Signs and symptoms

Approximately 1 in 4 people develop symptoms during the first 6 months of acquiring the infection:

Acute Hepatitis C

  • Loss of appetite
  • Temperature of 38C or above
  • Feeling sick
  • Stomach pains
  • Tiredness
  • Jaundice - This can affect 1 in 5 individuals and the symptoms can develop within the first few weeks of the infection.

It is estimated that in 1 in 5 cases of the virus the immune system will eliminate the virus and the patient will not experience any other symptoms, unless re-infection occurs.

Chronic Hepatitis C

Symptoms of this can vary very widely from patient to patient. Symptoms can also disappear for long periods of time and then subsequently return. Symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Depression
  • Abdominal pain
  • Indigestion
  • Bloating
  • Mood swings
  • Pain in the liver area.
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