Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a virus that can infect and damage the liver.

How is it passed on?

Hepatitis C is usually transmitted through blood to blood contact. Examples include:

  • sharing needles when injecting drugs and through sharing other drug equipment;
  • use of unsterilised equipment when getting a tattoo/body piercing;
  • sharing razors or toothbrushes that are contaminated with infected blood.

It isn't commonly transmitted through vaginal sex, but it can be transmitted through certain types of sex which are more at risk of bleeding.

Gay or bisexual men can be more at risk of acquiring Hep C if:

  • they are living with HIV;
  • they have chemsex, especially if injecting drugs;
  • group sex, without using condoms;
  • they are into fisting or sharing sex toys, without using gloves or condoms.


During the early stage of infection there may not be any symptoms.

If symptoms do develop at this stage it is usually within the first 6 months after infection and they can be easily mistaken for another condition.

Symptoms can include:

You can only be certain you have Hepatitis if you have a test.

Long term effects

Some people can clear the virus at the early stage of infection. However, 4 out of 5 people will not be able to fight off the infection. This leads to a long term infection called chronic Hepatitis.

Hepatitis C can lead to problems with your liver, including scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), often years after catching the infection.


Hepatitis C can be treated with antiviral medicines designed to stop the virus from multiplying inside the body and to prevent liver damage. The sooner treatment begins after exposure to the Hepatitis C virus, the more likely it is to succeed.

If the virus is cleared with treatment, you are not immune to future infections of Hepatitis C.

Telling your partner

If you are diagnosed with Hepatitis C, you should tell anyone who you may have had blood to blood contact with, or unprotected sex with, since you became infected. In some cases this may be hard to work out, so it is best to discuss the risks for any contacts with your doctor. They may have the virus without knowing it, so it is important for them to get tested.

How to avoid Hepatitis C:

  • never share any drug-injecting equipment with other people (not just needles, but also syringes, spoons and filters);
  • don’t get tattoos or piercings from unlicensed places;
  • don't share razors, toothbrushes or towels that might be contaminated with blood;
  • use a condom, especially with a new partner, for vaginal, anal and oral sex;
  • avoid group sex that doesn't involve condoms for penetrative sex.


There is no vaccination for Hepatitis C.


Where to get tested

A sexual health clinic can test you for this infection. You can also get tested for Hepatitis C at your GP or a drug treatment service. This involves a simple blood test.

How long after infection does Hepatitis C show up in tests?

Test results will start to become positive 6 to 10 weeks after exposure. However, tests for Hepatitis C often can't distinguish between recent and previous infection.

What is antiviral medication?

Antiviral medication usually acts to prevent a virus from multiplying.

Does Hepatitis C affect fertility?


Will my partner(s) be able to tell if I have Hepatitis C?

They will be able to tell if you have symptoms of the infection but not if you don’t. However it is important that you tell your partner(s) since you may pass or have passed the infection to them. They may also be the source of the infection but be unaware.

To make an appointment or for further advice, please call:

0300 303 1948

Phoneline open 08:15-16:45 Monday-Friday

(closed 12:30-13:30 for lunch)