If like many Australians you have been diagnosed with or have risk factors for Hep C, Don’t panic. The good news is that a new generation of medications are available that are effective, easy to take and have few side effects. The even better news is that most of these can be prescribed and managed by your local doctor. QMSC has several GPs who have a special interest in treating you and Hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C related deaths have declined by 20% in Australia in the past two years since new treatments have been added to the PBS. Here in Australia 60,000 people have been treated and over half of these people are having treatment in primary care. Contact our clinic today to make an appointment to discuss further.
If you are aged between 45 and 60 you are more likely to be unknowingly living with hepatitis C than any other age group. Unless detected and treated it can cause liver disease, cirrhosis and liver cancer.
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How do you get hepatitis C?
Most Hepatitis C infections are acquired from unsafe injecting drug use but other ways of acquiring Hepatitis C include:
- unsterile tattooing or body piercing procedures
- unsterile medical procedures or vaccinations (particularly in countries with high rates of hepatitis C)
- needle-stick injuries and accidental exposure to infected blood or blood products
- exposure to blood in the home eg sharing dental floss, razors or toothbrushes
- unprotected sex involving blood or damage to the skin
- some other form of blood-to-blood contact
Some people with hepatitis C cannot identify how they were infected.
How do i know if i have hepatitis C?
The only way to find out if you have hepatitis C is by a blood test organised by your doctor. The hepatitis C virus (HCV) antibody test shows if you have ever been infected. It can take 3 to 6 months from the time of infection before this test becomes positive. So if your test result is negative, you will need a repeat test in 3 to 6 months time.
The test can’t show if you have chronic hepatitis C. So if your antibody test result is positive, you will need another test to tell if the virus is still in your blood. The test usually used for this is a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR test).
It is important to know your hepatitis C status. If you think you may be at risk, ask your GP for a test.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Many people don’t have any symptoms at first, or have a minor, flu-like illness. In some cases, your urine becomes dark, and your skin and eyes turn yellow (jaundice). Hepatitis symptoms can disappear within a few weeks but this does not always mean that the infection has also disappeared.
If you have hepatitis symptoms you should see a doctor. When the liver is ‘inflamed’ for more than 6 months, the illness is called long-term or chronic hepatitis.
Symptoms of chronic hepatitis C include:
- mild to severe tiredness
- loss of appetite
- feeling unwell and vomiting
- soreness under the ribs
- joint pain.
How is hepatitis C treated?
New and effective treatments are now available for hepatitis C. These are of much shorter duration and have fewer side-effects.
If you have hepatitis C
You need to work with your doctor to look after yourself. Make sure you have a doctor you are happy with and who has a good understanding of hepatitis C. Even if you are already infected with hepatitis C, you can still get a different type of the hepatitis C virus. If you have been treated, you can get hepatitis C again. You always need to protect yourself against hepatitis C.
It is important not to pass hepatitis C onto anybody else. You can do this by avoiding blood-to-blood contact, like always using your own injecting equipment. You need to minimise the risk of getting other liver infections, such as hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Ask your doctor about hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccination.