1.8 Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C was not discovered until 1988. It is an infection of the liver and is caused by a virus. When hepatitis C turns chronic, the illness can become very serious and can, in the long run, even lead to cancer of the liver. Hepatitis C is particularly common among injecting drug users.

Do you always get sick when infected?

No, someone can even be a carrier of the hepatitis C virus for the remainder of his/her life without ever feeling sick. 1 he danger of this is that this person unknowingly can infect others.

How long is the incubation period?

After initial infection, it normally takes one to three months before one gets sick.

What are the symptoms?

Fatigue, apathy, lack of appetite, fever, vague abdominal pains and nausea. The illness can also produce colour changes in eyes, skin, urine (tea colour), and faeces (pale colour).

Can hepatitis C be cured?

Acute hepatitis C is not as curable as acute hepatitis B. In only 20% of all cases, the virus leaves the body by itself. In 80% of all cases, the virus stays dormant and leads to chronic hepatitis C. People with chronic hepatitis C can infect others and, in addition, are more likely to get cirrhosis of the liver (20% of all cases) and liver cancer. (For cirrhosis of the liver, see chapter 'Hepatitis B'). A vaccine against hepatitis C is not yet available. But there is treatment with alfa interferon, a medication which cures 15% to 30% of all people with hepatitis C. in contrast to hepatitis A and B, someone who has contracted hepatitis C before, is NOT immune for the rest of his/her life. Recurrent infections are possible.

How can hepatitis C be prevented?

Avoid high-risk behaviour. See chapter 'How do you catch hepatitis C?'

When is there no chance of infection?

The hepatitis C virus is NOT found in sweat, saliva, tears and breath. Hugging, shaking someone's hand or eating and playing sports together do not carry any risks whatsoever. You even can eat from an infected person's plate, share a cigarette or sit on the same toilet seat.

How do you catch hepatitis C?

The hepatitis C virus is mainly found in blood and is three times as contagious as HIV, For an infection, only 0.00004 millilitres of blood are needed! The chance of an infection through sexual contact is very small, as it is difficult for the virus to enter the body via the mucous membranes of the genitals. Among
specialists there even is an ongoing discussion whether sexual contact represents a risk factor for hepatitis C, or not.

Risk factors

· Sharing of needles and other utensils (among others, spoons, filters, syringes, water) by drug users.

· Contact with infected blood on skin wounds (for instance through biting).

· Contact with infected blood in eyes, mouth and nose.

· Use of non-sterile needles in piercing, tattooing and acupuncture.

· Blood brotherhood.

. Sadomasochistic games with blood involvement.

· Sex without using condoms.

· Anal sex without extra-strong condoms.

· Mother-to-child infection during pregnancy.

· Sharing of razor blades, razors, thermometers, tooth picks, dental floss, and tooth brushes.