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Hepatitis C

What is hepatitis C?

  • Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease caused by a virus. 
  • This illness does not go away spontaneously and can lead to serious liver problems.

What causes hepatitis C?

  • Hepatitis C is caused by a virus. 
  • The virus is in the blood of infected persons.  
  • Most infections are caused by direct blood – blood contact.  The virus is transmitted if infected blood ends up in the blood of the other person, for instance by means of an infected injection needle or a blood transfusion.  
  • Infection by blood transfusion does no longer occur in Belgium because donor blood is carefully checked.
  • The virus can also be transmitted by the use of infected tooth brushes (bleeding gums), razor blades or needles (for instance with piercings, tattoos or acupuncture).
  • We notice that men having sex with men (msm) and people with HIV are more at risk of developing hepatitis C.
  • Important risk factors are: fisting , long, rough and unprotected anal sex, sex toys, sharing anal showers and when you suffer from a disease that causes injuries in the intestines or anus.

What are the complaints?

  • Most people with hepatitis C have no complaints during the first years of the illness or they are only a little bit tired.  
  • It may take years before the symptoms occur. 
  • Tiredness, reduced appetite, nausea or vague stomach ache can be symptoms.
  • Some people get better without treatment. The virus disappears and they are no longer contagious for others.  When you are cured, it is always possible to get infected again!
  • Without treatment most people keep carrying the virus and remain contagious.  
  • In this case the infection of the liver remains, in a mild or more serious form.  We call this a chronic liver infection.  For some people the infection may cause serious and lasting damage to the liver in the long run.  We call this liver cirrhosis. In some cases it may develop into liver cancer.

How is the infection diagnosed?

  • Hepatitis C is found in the blood.

Treatment

  • When you have an infection with hepatitis C, you will always be referred to a specialist (stomach – intestine – liver doctor or internist). 
  • This doctor will examine you further to determine the correct treatment.  There are medicines (injections and tablets) to treat hepatitis C. 
  • The treatment may take long (6 to 12 months) and has many side effects.  
  • Because the liver in inflamed, your body has problems with certain medicines.  Therefore it is important that you always inform your doctor when you take medication.
  • There is no vaccination against hepatitis C. 
  • Vaccination against hepatitis A and B do not protect against hepatitis C!

Warning partner

  • It is best to inform your sex partners about your infection.  Certainly if you have risky contacts: fisting, long lasting rough and unprotected anal sex, use of sex toys and sharing anal showers.
  • Also if you share injection needles (drug use), share straws to use cocaine,  needles (sm), razor blades, … it is best to inform the persons you have shared these things with.

Work advice

  • When you are infected, you must always work safely.
  • Because hepatitis C holds risks, it is recommended to find another job.