Pokenga ate C Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a virus that causes inflammation of your liver. The virus is carried in blood and can only be passed to someone when the blood of an infected person enters the bloodstream of an uninfected person. If left untreated, Hepatitis C can cause liver disease (cirrhosis), liver failure and liver cancer.

Risk factors for hepatitis C

People at risk of getting hepatitis C include those who:

  • share needles or other equipment to inject drugs
  • received a blood transfusion before 1992
  • have had tattoos or body piercing, especially in unlicensed facilities or with non-sterile equipment
  • have had a needlestick injury in the course of their work, such as health professionals who have been accidentally pierced with a used needle
  • have lived in or received health care in Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East or Eastern Europe
  • have been in prison and used non-sterile needles or been involved in unsafe tattooing practice
  • have lived in close contact with a person diagnosed with hepatitis C
  • were born to a mother with hepatitis C (low risk of transmission).

Symptoms of hepatitis C

Many people with hepatitis C do not have symptoms and do not know they are infected.

If you do have symptoms, they can appear any time from 2 weeks to 6 months after infection. In some cases, it can take many years for symptoms to develop.

Symptoms may include:

  • fever
  • feeling tired
  • lack of appetite
  • joint pain
  • upset stomach
  • vomiting
  • dark urine
  • grey-coloured poo
  • yellow skin and eyes.

Diagnosing hepatitis C

The only way to know if you have hepatitis C is to get tested. This can either be done with a blood test arranged by your healthcare provider or a finger prick test available at some clinics.

Where to get tested — Stick it to Hep C (external link)

The test is to see if you have hepatitis C antibodies. If this test is positive, it means you have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus sometime in your life. This may have been within the past few months or many years ago.

If you have a positive test, you will need another blood test to check if you currently have hepatitis C virus in your blood. You may also need further testing of your liver to check for damage. This may include a painless liver scan called a FibroScan.

Treating hepatitis C

Treatment for hepatitis C can cure more than 90% of people infected with the virus after 8 to 12 weeks of treatment.

The usual treatment is with a tablet, glecaprevir and pibrentasvir (Maviret). This is free on prescription.

You may need to see a specialist if you have problems with your liver or if the medication does not work for you.

Self care for hepatitis C

While you are taking treatment for hepatitis C it is also important to look after the health of your liver.

  • Eat well.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol. Once infected with hepatitis C your liver is already weakened. So drinking, even in small amounts can raise your chance of getting serious liver disease.
  • Only taking medications or supplements prescribed by your healthcare provider. Tell them about any other over-the-counter medicines, herbal remedies or recreational drugs you may be taking as some of these may damage your liver.

It can also help to stay a healthy weight, not smoke and get immunised against hepatitis A and hepatitis B. This is because being overweight, smoking and having more than one type of hepatitis can increase the chances of your liver being damaged if you have hepatitis C.

Preventing hepatitis C

There is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. But there are things you can do to avoid becoming infected and spreading the hepatitis C infection.

Hepatitis C is not spread through food or close personal contact, such as handshaking, hugging and kissing. It is spread when the blood from an infected person enters the bloodstream of an uninfected person. To avoid this happening:

  • do not share needles or syringes
  • do not share personal items, such as toothbrushes or razors
  • clean and cover any cuts or grazes with a waterproof dressing
  • clean any blood from surfaces with household bleach
  • avoid sexual practices that might risk blood contact such as during menstruation or if you have genital ulcers.

Related websites

Hepatitis Foundation of New Zealand

Information about hepatitis C, including where to go for help, and resources.

Stick it to Hep C

Information about hepatitis C and how to get tested.

Clinical review

This content was written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. It has been adapted for Health Information and Services.

Clinical advisers — HealthInfo (external link)

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