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Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C (HCV) is an infection of the liver caused by a virus. It's much easier to get than HIV, and can cause permanent liver disease and cancer. Most people have no obvious symptoms, and there is no known cure.

Signs and symptoms

There may be no symptoms at all. If there are they may include:

  • A short, flu-like illness
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Jaundice in a small number of cases
  • Itchy skin

How do you get it?

  • Sharing contaminated needles or other equipment for injecting drugs.
  • Using unsterilised equipment for tattooing, acupuncture or body piercing.
  • Unprotected penetrative sex (where the penis enters the vagina or anus) or sex which draws blood - this is relatively rare but possible.
  • Unprotected oral sex (from mouth to the genitals).
  • Between 1-5% of infected mothers may pass it on to their child during pregnancy or at birth.
  • Through blood transfusion in a country where blood is not tested for HCV - all blood for transfusion in the UK is tested.

Testing and treatment

A doctor or nurse will give you a blood test to see whether you have the virus. About 1 in 5 people manage to clear the virus from their blood. The others remain infected and after a number of years they could develop serious liver disease.

In the last couple of years a treatment has become available but it is often not very successful.