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Hepatitis C - Hepatitis C expert Dr Janice Main on the questions to ask

We asked Dr Janice Main, a consultant in infectious diseases at St Mary’s Hospital, London, what she would want to know if she had hepatitis C.

What symptoms can I expect?

If you catch hepatitis C, you might not notice. If you develop symptoms, you may feel slightly unwell and be off your food about six to eight weeks after being infected.

It would be unusual to get any more of the severe symptoms that some other types of hepatitis cause, such as jaundice.

How serious is it?

Between 20% and 40% of people who catch hepatitis C experience have no further problems.

However, in 60 to 80% of cases, infection becomes chronic (long-term). If left untreated, the infection can cause progressive liver damage.

Liver damage can lead to cirrhosis (a condition in which the liver becomes scarred), liver failure and liver cancer.

How can I prevent spreading it?

Hepatitis C is a bloodborne infection, so be careful about sharing razors or toothbrushes. Always cover any cuts to the skin.

If you are an injecting drug user, use clean needles and do not share ‘works’ (drug equipment). Dispose carefully of used needles and keep them away from children.

Always use condoms if you have sex.

If you are planning to conceive or you are pregnant, talk to the doctor at the antenatal clinic. They can arrange special blood tests for you and your baby.

Is there any treatment?

Yes. Drugs to treat hepatitis C are improving all the time, and there are now effective treatments.

Treatment is especially effective if it is given as soon as someone contracts hepatitis C (at the acute phase). However, the treatment can still be effective even if hepatitis C has become established.

The doctor will assess your general medical and mental health before offering treatment, as the treatment course can have significant side effects.

How will I be looked after?

You should be referred to a specialist hepatologist (liver specialist), gastroenterologist (specialist of the stomach and intestines) or infectious diseases specialist, who can monitor your condition.

You can expect to see them two or three times initially for blood tests, ultrasound and possibly a liver biopsy.

After that, you will usually see them every six to 12 months.

If you're offered medication, you will be seen more frequently to monitor whether the treatment is working, and how it is affecting you.

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