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What is hepatitis C?
Within the UK, hepatitis C (HCV) is the most common type of viral hepatitis and similarly to hepatitis B, is spread through blood to blood contact with an infected individual. It is thought that recreational drug use and the sharing of needles play a large part in the spread of the virus. Hepatitis C is usually a chronic infection as for the majority of those infected with HCV, the virus will remain in the body for a number of years. Although currently there is no HCV vaccine available, hepatitis C can be treated with antiviral drugs.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C doesn't often have any noticeable symptoms until the liver is significantly damaged. Because of this, many of those infected are unaware they have the virus.
If symptoms do occur they may include:
Because these symptoms may also indicate a range of other health issues, the only way to know for certain if you are infected with hepatitis C is to have a blood test.
How is hepatitis C diagnosed?
When a virus enters the body, the immune system works hard to produce antibodies to fight the infection. A positive result from a hepatitis C antibody test indicates whether an individual has ever been exposed to HCV. But this positive result does not necessarily mean there is a current infection as the immune system may have cleared the virus from the body. A second blood test called a PCR test is required after a positive result in order to confirm a current infection.