Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Most people who have HCV feel well, have no symptoms, and do not know they have the disease. Others may experience a brief illness with symptoms usually appearing 6 to 12 weeks after being infected with the virus. The only way to know for sure that you have HCV is to have a blood test.
The good news is that HCV is now considered curable for most people.
Transmission can occur through blood-to-blood contact, such as sharing injection drug use equipment or unprotected sex. The only way to know that you may be infected is to get tested. If you are sexually active or sharing needles, you should know your HCV status. You should also know your partner’s status. Talk to your doctor, nurse practitioner or nurse, or visit a community organization that offers testing.
Protect yourself from becoming infected by:
- Not sharing injection drug use equipment such as needles
- Not sharing sex toys
- Using condoms during vaginal, rectal and oral sex
- Using lubricant during vaginal, rectal and oral sex to prevent tearing in the membranes of the vagina and rectum, as well as to help prevent condom breakage
Many community organizations provide free harm reduction supplies, including condoms (male and female), lubrication, and drug use supplies to help keep you safer.
Discover how to get tested in your community.
If you get tested for HCV and the results turn out to be positive, it means that you have been infected with hepatitis C at some point in your life. For about 15 per cent of those infected, their bodies are able to fight off the virus on its own. However, most people will go on to develop chronic HCV. At first, a diagnosis of HCV may be quite shocking. You might even go through a period of denial. However, medical treatment has come a long way and, for most people, HCV can be cured!
Doctors and nurse practitioners, along with their colleagues like pharmacists, social workers, and dietitians, across the region can help get you on the path to the right treatment for you. In addition, there are several agencies in within the North with a mission to assist and support those who are living with HIV/AIDS. They can offer information, support and other resources that will help you make important choices about your care and treatment. Many of these organizations also provide an opportunity to connect with others who are living with HCV, which can be greatly beneficial. There are also many online resources to help you learn about living with and being treated for HCV.
From anywhere in the North, you can also self-refer to Northern Health’s HIV and Hepatitis C Specialist Support Team. This team of health care providers can support you with readiness for treatment, connections with primary care, advocating for access to programs, and much more.
Most people who have an HCV infection require treatment. Through additional blood tests, as well as liver function assessment, your health care provider will determine the best course of treatment for you. Antiviral medications can eliminate the HCV and prevent serious liver problems from developing. Treatment is well tolerated and highly effective (95-99 per cent), and now most cases of HCV can be cured! The length of treatment depends on several different factors, but in some cases, it can be curative in as little as 8 weeks. It is possible for people to be re-infected with HCV, so it is important to always practice harm reduction in order to prevent re-infection.
Talk to your family doctor, nurse practitioner, or contact the HIV/HCV Specialized Support Team. If you have further questions about HIV or any other topic about your sexual health talk to a registered nurse at the BC Centre for Disease Control.
For more information about the administrative team who support chronic disease services, see the Regional Chronic Disease Program.