Hepatitis C is inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus. A number of people will experience no symptoms, while others will experience symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Left untreated, hepatitis C can lead to scarring of the liver and serious liver disease.
There are six main strains, or genotypes, of hepatitis C - genotypes 1 to 6. Each of these genotypes contain numerous subtypes identified by letters such as genotype 1a, 1b and 3a etc. The prevalence of genotypes vary between countries. The main genotypes found in Australia are genotype 1 and genotype 3.
The hepatitis C virus is transmitted by blood-to-bloodstream contact. Infection occurs when blood with hepatitis C virus gets into the bloodstream of another person. The hepatitis C virus can survive outside the body for up to six weeks at room temperature on inanimate surfaces, and remain infectious during this time.
Even if you have hepatitis C, or have had it in the past, you can still be re-infected. You can become infected with different strains and experience another acute stage of infection.
There is currently no vaccine for hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C is not classified as a STI. There is only a risk of transmission when there is potential for blood-to-bloodstream contact during sex. The risk of this contact may increase when an STI such as herpes is present. There may also be an increased risk of blood-to-bloodstream contact during rough sex, anal sex or when a woman has her period.
The risk of mother-to-baby transmission of hepatitis C is less than five per cent unless the mother is also infected with HIV. Women with hepatitis C are encouraged to have natural births and to breastfeed, unless they have cracked nipples.
In South Australia, you don't need to tell if you have hepatitis C unless you are:
Until recently, the presence of hepatitis C virus in the blood is detected with a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test on blood samples.
Nowadays hepatitis C rapid tests are available at selected locations around Australia. These diagnostic tests require only a drop of blood collected via a fingerstick, giving results within an hour. These tests can be given at the point of care, without the need to send samples to laboratories.
To find out if hepatitis C rapid tests are available near you, call Hepatitis SA on 1800 437 222. If you are interstate, call your local hepatitis organisation. Read on for information on current conventional hepatitis C testing.
There are highly effective cures for hepatitis C with an over 95% success rate, and little or no side effects. Re-treatment options can bring success rates close to 100%. These drugs, known as direct acting antivirals, are available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).