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Many New Zealanders have hepatitis C and don’t know it. Hepatitis C is a disease with no vaccine, no immunity – and no universal cure.
- Hepatitis C is a virus that infects the liver.
- It can cause inflammation and liver disease, along with a range of other conditions such as autoimmune disorders.
- It is spread through contact with the blood of an infected person.
What happens when you get hepatitis C?
- Some people’s bodies get rid of the virus naturally.
- Other people become ‘carriers’ and can carry hepatitis C in their liver for years. This means the liver is constantly under attack, and can lead to liver damage and cirrhosis (scarring of the liver). It also means you may infect other people.
How many people have hepatitis C?
Worldwide, about 200 million people have been infected with hepatitis C – this includes more than 50,000 New Zealanders.
Hepatitis Foundation of New Zealand
A charitable trust focused on education and research into viral hepatitis, and early detection and long-term follow-up of chronic hepatitis B and C.
Needle Exchange Programme
A health education and health promotion service for people who inject drugs.
The Ministry has funded free access to this British Medical Journal website for people browsing the web from New Zealand.
Information from the UK National Health Service.
If you have hepatitis C, you may have:
- unusual fatigue
- an upset stomach
- reduced tolerance for alcohol or fatty foods
- pain around the liver
- low-level malaise.
A blood test will confirm whether or not you have hepatitis C. Talk to your GP or a sexual health clinic about the test.
If you are a hepatitis C carrier, antiviral therapy is the best way to avoid developing chronic hepatitis C. The earlier you’re treated, the better.
- You’ll be treated with antiviral therapy for 24–48 weeks.
- This will be followed by a 24-week wait to check the virus has completely cleared.
- You’ll be regularly monitored before and after treatment.
- Treatment comes with a number of side effects – talk to your health professional about these.
- Even after hepatitis C has been cleared, some people relapse.
Your doctor will be able to tell you more about treatment options.
Hepatitis C is spread mainly through contact with the blood of an infected person.
In New Zealand, the infection is mostly spread through sharing injecting drug-use equipment (eg, needles, syringes, filters). For more information, visit the Hepatitis Foundation of New Zealand.
Hepatitis C can also be passed on through:
- tattooing, ear piercing and body piercing – be sure equipment is properly sterilised
- cuts and scratches getting infected directly from the cuts and scratches of an infected person – this is rare
- sexual intercourse – this is rare.
If you have hepatitis C or are a chronic carrier:
- don’t share toothbrushes, razors, facecloths and towels
- don’t share needles or other injecting gear – you could re-infect yourself, as well as infecting others
- don’t donate blood
ask your doctor about:
- the risk of alcohol harming your liver
- infection risks during pregnancy and birth
- treatment options
- hepatitis A and hepatitis B immunisations.