About Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) is an infectious blood-borne-virus (BBV) that can affect the liver when left undiagnosed and untreated. HCV may eventually cause liver fibrosis (hardening) and more rarely liver cancer. Hepatitis C is now treatable and in most cases cure-able.
Hepatitis C is a virus that lives in the blood, and is transmitted (passed on from one person to the next) when infected blood from one person gets into someone else’s blood stream. Even invisible (microscopic) amounts of blood can transmit hepatitis C.
- Sharing or reusing other people’s needles and syringes
- Sharing or reusing other people’s drug injecting equipment
- Tattooing, body piercing and other beauty procedures
- Medical care in developing countries
- Sharing of drug snorting equipment
- Sexual activity – condoms not used during anal sex, sharing unwashed sex toys, group sex and fisting (where there may be abrasions, tears, cuts, wounds or sores that may not be easily seen increasing blood to blood exposure of HCV).
Hepatitis C treatments and HIV
Hepatitis C is now treatable and in most cases cure-able.
Untreated HCV can result in liver-related health problems and these problems can be exacerbated by HIV co-infection. HCV and HIV co-infection can also increase HIV viral load.
Highly effective pill-based treatments for HCV are available under Medicare. These exciting and effective treatments can cure HCV in up to 90% of people with HIV/HCV co-infection, for most (geno)types of HCV, by taking 1 or 2 HCV pills daily. These treatments are called “Direct Acting Antivirals” (DAAs), and their side effects are very low.
The use of interferon (injectable) to treat HCV today is extremely rare, as the pill based treatments are so effective. These pill-based Hepatitis C treatments offer the chance for HIV-positive people to clear the HCV, in up to 90% of cases using the new DAAs for up to 12 weeks.
Some people can naturally clear the Hepatitis C virus early (soon after infection) without taking any treatment (20% of people); but if you have HIV as well approximately 15% of people with HIV/HCV will clear the virus early without any treatment. If you have ‘chronic’ (longer term) HCV infection then you have not cleared the virus naturally, and so treatment will be required as advised by your doctor.
If you are considering HCV treatment, we encourage you to have a discussion with your GP, HIV Physician, Liver or Infectious Diseases Specialist.
Treatment is not a vaccine
It is important to note that HCV treatments are NOT a vaccine, and therefore don’t prevent you from getting Hepatitis C. They are a treatment for an existing HCV infection. If you are successful in clearing HCV it’s important to know you can be re-infected with HCV again a second time around.
Hepatitis C resources
- Hepatitis Queensland – have a range of resources about Hepatitis A (HAV), Hepatitis B (HBV), and Hepatitis C (HCV), including updated information about treatments. Call 1800 HEP ABC to find out more.
- ASHM – The Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM) contains patient and clinic information for the management of HIV and Hepatitis C co-infection.
- The New Deal is a website for gay men, particularly those living with HIV, about the sexual transmission of hepatitis C and how to prevent it. The website includes info about testing, treatment and HIV/hepatitis C co-infection.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that can affect both men and women. Syphilis is transmitted through close skin-to-skin contact and is highly contagious when the syphilis sore (chancre) or rash is present.
Gonorrhoea is a common bacterial STI, and doesn’t always have symptoms. It can affect anyone, regardless of gender, who has any kind of unprotected sex (without condoms) with someone who has the infection. It can be treated with antibiotics.
Chlamydia is a very common bacterial STI, and often people do not realise they have it. It can affect women and men of all ages, but most frequently occurs in young people who regularly change sexual partners. It can usually be easily treated.
HPV & Related Cancers
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, but research indicates that types 16 and 18 cause 70% of cervical cancers and over 80% of anal cancers worldwide.
If you have any questions about Hepatitis C co-infection, please call QPP’s Public Health Officer toll-free from a QLD land-line on 1800 636 241, or use the contact form provided or call (07) 3013 5555 (nationally).