Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C was discovered by scientists in 1988. It’s a virus that causes inflammation of the liver and may result in liver disease.

Hepatitis C is transmitted by blood-to-blood contact, which means blood from one person must enter another person’s blood stream. Even a small amount of blood can carry enough of the virus to infect another person.

Transmission can occur during sexual activity, particularly unprotected anal sex, where blood from broken skin of the penis of the guy topping enters the bloodstream of the arse of the person bottoming.

Many cases of hepatitis C occur from unsafe injecting drug use, such as sharing injecting equipment. However, a small percentage of cases occur from unsterile medical procedures, unsterile tattooing or body piercing procedures, needle-stick injuries, the sharing of razors or toothbrushes and accidental exposure to infected blood.

What are the symptoms?

Many people with hepatitis C don’t experience any symptoms, so the only way to know for sure is to get tested. When symptoms do occur in the early stages of infection, some people experience:

  • Flu-like symptoms or fever
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain

Some people are able to clear the virus naturally, usually within the first two to six months. However, some people may develop a chronic (long-term) infection.

How do I get tested?

Hepatitis C is diagnosed with a blood test. Unlike hepatitis A and B, you can be infected more than once and you do not develop immunity if you contract hepatitis C. Speak to your doctor or healthcare provider to arrange a test for hepatitis C or visit your nearest sexual health clinic to organise a test for hepatitis C as part of your next test.

How can I get treated?

If you develop chronic hepatitis C, your doctor will usually prescribe a combination of two drugs. These drugs aim to clear the virus from your body. This inhibits the virus from progressing to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer or liver failure. These drugs cure hepatitis C in more than 95% of people.

How can I prevent getting hepatitis C?

There are no vaccines available for hepatitis C. However, to reduce the risk of contracting hepatitis C, it’s a good idea to:

  • Always use condoms, gloves and water-based or silicone-based lube if you’re fucking, getting fucked or fisting
  • Always change condoms between different partners
  • Avoid sharing sex toys and use condoms over toys
  • Sterilise sex toys completely with disinfectant and rinse in boiling water between sessions
  • Wash your hands and sex toys during sex and between partners
  • Always use new injecting equipment and avoid sharing injecting equipment
  • Always wash your hands before and after injecting
  • Avoid sharing personal items such as toothbrushes, razors and nail scissors & clippers
  • Make sure body artists use new and sterile equipment for tattooing, body piercing and other body art, and ensure they work at premises registered by the local council

For more information contact NSW Sexual Health Infolink on 1800 451 624 www.shil.nsw.gov.au or visit your local sexual health clinic or doctor.

What if I’m HIV positive?

There’s a higher number of cases of hepatitis C amongst poz guys, so it’s a good idea to get a hepatitis C test at least once a year, and every six months if you’ve had more than 10 partners in the last six months, use recreational drugs or have had unprotected or group sex.

While guys with both HIV and hepatitis C can be treated for both infections, HIV is usually the priority. Some people, however, need to be treated for both infections, especially in cases where there are hepatitis C-related liver problems.

As you may already know, some HIV treatments can carry a risk of liver inflammation or damage. This is why it’s important to develop a good relationship with your doctor, especially if you also have hepatitis C, so you can have your liver enzyme levels carefully monitored.

If I’m on PrEP, how will Hepatitis C affect me?

Although PrEP is a highly effective in preventing HIV transmission, it does not protect you from blood-borne viruses such as hepatitis C. The best way to avoid contracting hepatitis C is to use condoms when you have sex, use condoms on sex toys and don’t share injecting equipment.

Fast facts about Hepatitis C

  • Hepatitis C is passed on from blood-to-blood contact
  • Most cases of hepatitis C occur from unsafe injecting drug use, and some cases occur from unprotected anal sex
  • If you contract hepatitis C, you may get flu-like symptoms, nausea or abdominal pain
  • At the moment, there are no vaccines to prevent you from contracting hepatitis C
  • If you’re poz, make sure you get tested regularly for hepatitis C