Sex, Drugs & BBVs – What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C (Hep C) was first identified in 1989. Before then, it was referred to as non-A, non-B hepatitis or post-transfusion hepatitis. Hep C affects millions of people around the world. It is a slow acting virus that affects the liver. The majority of people living with Hep C will not experience serious disease or death as a result.

Of the expected 10,000 new infections each year in Australia:

  • 90% will result from the sharing or re-using of drug injecting equipment contaminated with infected blood, and
  • 10% result from unknown risk factors which involve blood-to-blood contact such as tattooing and body piercing with equipment that has not been sterilized properly, sexual transmission or physical violence involving blood, shared razors or toothbrushes that have blood on them.

Research has shown that approximately 25% of people with hep C will clear the virus within 2 – 6 months of becoming infected; however, they will continue to carry antibodies to the virus. The other 75% of people who do not clear the virus will have an ongoing or chronic (long term) infection. After 20 years, up to 10% of the people with chronic hep C will develop cirrhosis[1]. This rises to up to 20% of people – after 40 years.

People who clear hep C from their bodies are not at risk of chronic liver disease unless they are re-infected with the virus. There are approximately 6 different strains of hep C. These strains are called genotypes[2]. A person can become re-infected with the same genotype or with multiple genotypes.

To date there is no vaccine to protect against infection from hep C and there is no cure.

Treatment is available to clear the virus but it can take a long time to complete (up to 12 months depending on genotype) and may not be effective in some people. Some people experience side effects while on treatment for hep C. If you would like to know more about hep C contact your local drug user organisation or local Hepatitis Council.

Be blood aware and take care!

[1]Extensive and permanent scarring of the liver. Cirrhosis interferes with the normal functioning of the liver. Approximately 2% of people with Hep C develop cirrhosis.
[2]Genotype is a term used to describe the specific genetic structure of hep C. The classification scheme most often used divides hep C into 6 major genotypes (1-6), each are further subdivided into subtypes (1a, 1b, 2a, etc.). Genotypes are closely related in their genetic make-up but different enough that scientists have classified them into distinct groups.