Hepatitis C

Regional district health boards manage hepatitis C patient services. If you think you have hepatitis C or would like to access treatment, please contact your GP. If you have any questions about hepatitis C or would like to talk to someone, please call us on 0800 33 20 10.

What is hepatitis C?

69ac1e4d4f9f4eb0b067cac6eaef7010_f931The hepatitis C (HCV) virus is spread through blood-to-blood contact and leads to inflammation of the liver. There is no vaccine to prevent HCV infection, however in many cases it can be cured.

In New Zealand about 50,000 people have chronic hepatitis C. Only half of these people are aware they have the virus.

Acute hepatitis C occurs when a person is infected with HCV for less than six months. One out of every three people infected clear the virus within six months. The others go on to have chronic hepatitis C.

The virus causes inflammation of the liver, which affects the way the liver works. The liver is an important organ that does many tasks essential for life and growth. If left untreated, HCV can result in a lot of scarring in the liver (cirrhosis), which stops the liver working properly. Liver damage can lead to liver cancer or liver failure.

To find out more about scarring (cirrhosis and fibrosis), read the article ‘Cirrhosis vs. fibrosis: What do I need to know about cirrhosis?‘ from issue 7 of Talking Hep C.

Please read our information sheet for more detail about the liver.

What are the symptoms?

Many people with HCV have no symptoms. It is often referred to as a silent epidemic because people commonly don’t notice any symptoms until 20 or 30 years after infection. Any symptoms that do appear are usually mild and non-specific. The most common symptoms include:

  • Tiredness (fatigue)
  • Joint pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain.

Who should I tell?

You do not have to tell anyone you have hepatitis, but you should take reasonable precautions to prevent the spread of the virus to others.

You may choose to share your diagnosis with particular people for support. It is often best to tell people you trust or people directly affected, such as household members or sexual partners.

Telling health care workers such as a doctor or nurse may be beneficial for good health care (e.g. prescribing the most appropriate medications). Health care workers, including dentists, are required to use standard infection control precautions for all situations and procedures that may involve exposure to blood or other bodily fluids, regardless of whether you have hepatitis or not.

Click here to read more about the human rights act.

Do I need to tell my employer? 

People living with hepatitis do not have to tell employers, unless you work in an environment that may put others at risk, such as healthcare. However, disclosure is not mandatory. Discrimination against people with hepatitis in the workplace is illegal.

How is hepatitis C spread?

Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood contact. It is highly infectious and can survive outside the body for more than seven days. Those most at risk of HCV are people who:

  • Have injected drugs (even if only once)
  • Have received a tattoo or body piercing using unsterile equipment
  • Lived or received medical attention in a high-risk country (South East Asia, China, Eastern Europe (including Russia), or the Middle East)
  • Had a blood transfusion or received blood products prior to 1992
  • Have ever been in prison
  • Were born to a mother living with hepatitis C.

What tests are required to diagnose hepatitis C?

There are two blood tests needed to diagnose chronic hepatitis C.

  • Antibody test (anti-HCV) – Looks for antibodies and confirms whether you have ever been in contact with the hepatitis C virus. If this test if positive it doesn’t necessarily mean you are currently infected with hepatitis C, it means you have been infected at some point.
  • HCV RNA / Hepatitis C Antigen test – Confirms if the virus is present and whether you are infected.
  • Hepatitis C genotype test – HCV has six main sub-types. These sub-types or strains are called ‘genotype’. For example, genotype 1, genoytype 2, etc.

How to prevent infecting others?

Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood contact. To avoid infecting others you should take the following steps:

  • Cover any open cuts or sores
  • Clean any blood spillage with household bleach (do not put bleach on your skin)
  • Avoid sexual practices which may risk blood contact
  • Do not share piercing, tattooing, drug injecting or snorting equipment
  • Do not donate blood
  • Do not share razors, towels, toothbrushes, or any object that may come into contact with blood.

Why is it important to be monitored?

Regular monitoring is important to assess the health of your liver. Blood tests can detect liver disease. If there is liver damage your GP can refer you to your local gastroenterology service for further assessment.

 

 

© The Hepatitis Foundation of New Zealand 2016