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What is hepatitis?

There are three types of hepatitis: Hepatitis Ahepatitis B, and hepatitis C are all liver infections caused by three different viruses. Although each can cause similar symptoms, they are spread in different ways and can affect the liver differently. Hepatitis A is usually a short-term infection. Hepatitis B and hepatitis C can also begin as short-term infections but in some people, the virus remains in the body, and causes chronic (lifelong) infection. There are vaccines to prevent hepatitis A and hepatitis B; however, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. 

(Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC)

NHS England plan to be the first in the world to eliminate hepatitis C by 2025, which has meant additional funding is available to source and treat patients in the UK. 

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C, sometimes called hep C or HCV, is a virus that is carried in the blood and body fluids which infects and damages the liver.

The hepatitis C virus infects the cells in your liver, causing inflammation (swelling and tenderness) and fibrosis. In people with chronic (long term) hepatitis C infection, inflammation and fibrosis continue to spread. Over time, usually many years, this can lead to cirrhosis of the liver.

Hepatitis C affects people very differently - many people with it may have no symptoms at all and may never know they have the virus. About 25% infected with hepatitis C will clear the virus, in its acute form, within two to six months. About 80% of people who are infected with hepatitis C will develop a chronic infection. 

Chronic hepatitis C can be very different for each individual; many find some of their symptoms come and go and some may find they have the following symptoms:

  • mild to serious tiredness (fatigue)
  • anxiety and/or depression
  • weight loss
  • loss of appetite and/or feeling sick
  • inability to tolerate alcohol
  • discomfort in the liver area (place your right hand over your lower right ribs and it will just about cover the area of your liver)
  • problems concentrating (brain fog)
  • joint and muscle aches
  • itchy skin (pruritus)
  • flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, night sweats and headaches
  • jaundice 

It is not unusual for people with hepatitis C to be diagnosed as having ME or chronic fatigue syndrome. The liver has no nerve endings - meaning liver specific symptoms might not develop until the liver is in the advanced stage of cirrhosis*. Even if you have mild or no symptoms, you can still pass the virus on. (Source: British Liver Trust)

*Cirrhosis is a condition in which scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue and prevents your liver from working normally.

HepC leaflet