Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a virus that can infect the liver. If left untreated, it can sometimes cause serious and potentially life-threatening damage to the liver over many years. You can become infected with it if you come into contact with the blood of an infected person.

Symptoms of hepatitis C

Hepatitis C often doesn't have any noticeable symptoms until the liver has been significantly damaged. Many people have the infection without realising it.

When symptoms do occur, they can be mistaken for another condition. Symptoms can include:

The only way to know for certain if these symptoms are caused by hepatitis C is to get tested.

How hepatitis C is spread

The hepatitis C virus is usually spread through blood-to-blood contact.

Some ways the infection can be spread include:

  • sharing unsterilised needles – particularly needles used to inject recreational drugs 
  • sharing razors or toothbrushes
  • from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby
  • through unprotected sex – although this is very rare

In Northern Ireland, most hepatitis C infections occur in people who inject drugs or have injected them in the past. It's estimated around one fifth of those who inject drugs in Northern Ireland have the infection.

When to seek medical advice

Seek medical advice if you have:

  • persistent symptoms of hepatitis C
  • there's a risk you're infected, even if you don't have any symptoms

A blood test can be carried out to see if you have the infection. 

Your GP, sexual health clinic, genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic or addiction service all offer testing for hepatitis C.

Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent or limit any damage to your liver. It can also help make sure the infection isn't passed on to other people.

Treatments for hepatitis C

Hepatitis C can be treated with medicines that stop the virus multiplying inside the body. These usually need to be taken for several weeks.

Complications of hepatitis C

If the infection is left untreated for many years, some people with hepatitis C will develop scarring of the liver (cirrhosis). Over time, this can cause the liver to stop working properly.

In severe cases, life-threatening problems such as liver failure orLiver cancer can eventually develop.

Treating hepatitis C as early as possible can help reduce the risk of these problems occurring.

Preventing hepatitis C

There's no vaccine for hepatitis C, but there are ways to reduce your risk of becoming infected.

These include:

  • not sharing any drug-injecting equipment with other people – including needles and other equipment such as syringes, spoons and filters
  • not sharing razors or toothbrushes that might be contaminated with blood

The risk of getting hepatitis C through sex is very low. However, it may be higher if blood is present, such as menstrual blood or from minor bleeding during anal sex.

Condoms aren't usually necessary to prevent hepatitis C for long-term heterosexual couples. However, it's a good idea to use them when having anal sex or sex with a new partner.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

Health conditions A to Z

Search by health condition or symptoms

Or find conditions beginning with …

Share this page

What do you want to do?
What is your question about?
Do you want a reply?
Your email address
To reply to you, we need your email address
Your feedback

We will not reply to your feedback.  Don't include any personal or financial information, for example National Insurance, credit card numbers, or phone numbers.

This feedback form is for issues with the nidirect website only.

You can use it to report a problem or suggest an improvement to a webpage.

If you have a question about a government service or policy, you should contact the relevant government organisation directly as we don’t have access to information about you held by government departments.

You must be aged 13 years or older - if you’re younger, ask someone with parental responsibility to send the feedback for you.

The nidirect privacy notice applies to any information you send on this feedback form.

Don't include any personal or financial information, for example National Insurance, credit card numbers, or phone numbers.

Plain text only, 750 characters maximum.
Plain text only, 750 characters maximum.

What to do next

Comments or queries about angling can be emailed to anglingcorrespondence@daera-ni.gov.uk 

What to do next

If you have a comment or query about benefits, you will need to contact the government department or agency which handles that benefit.  Contacts for common benefits are listed below.

Carer's Allowance

Call 0800 587 0912
Email 
dcs.incomingpostteamdhc2@nissa.gsi.gov.uk

Discretionary support / Short-term benefit advance

Call 0800 587 2750 
Email 
customerservice.unit@communities-ni.gov.uk

Disability Living Allowance

Call 0800 587 0912 
Email dcs.incomingpostteamdhc2@nissa.gsi.gov.uk

Employment and Support Allowance

Call 0800 587 1377

Jobseeker’s Allowance

Contact your local Jobs & Benefits office

Personal Independence Payment

Call 0800 587 0932

If your query is about another benefit, select ‘Other’ from the drop-down menu above.

What to do next

Comments or queries about the Blue Badge scheme can be emailed to bluebadges@infrastructure-ni.gov.uk or you can also call 0300 200 7818.

What to do next

For queries or advice about careers, contact the Careers Service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about Child Maintenance, contact the Child Maintenance Service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about claiming compensation due to a road problem, contact DFI Roads claim unit.

What to do next

For queries or advice about criminal record checks, email ani@accessni.gov.uk

What to do next

Application and payment queries can be emailed to ema_ni@slc.co.uk

What to do next

For queries or advice about employment rights, contact the Labour Relations Agency.

What to do next

For queries or advice about birth, death, marriage and civil partnership certificates and research, contact the General Register Office Northern Ireland (GRONI) by email gro_nisra@finance-ni.gov.uk

What to do next

For queries about:

If your query is about another topic, select ‘Other’ from the drop-down menu above.

What to do next

For queries or advice about passports, contact HM Passport Office.

What to do next

For queries or advice about Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs), including parking tickets and bus lane PCNs, email dcu@infrastructure-ni.gov.uk

What to do next

For queries or advice about pensions, contact the Northern Ireland Pension Centre.

What to do next

If you wish to report a problem with a road or street you can do so online in this section.

If you wish to check on a problem or fault you have already reported, contact DfI Roads.

What to do next

For queries or advice about historical, social or cultural records relating to Northern Ireland, use the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) enquiry service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about rates, email LPSCustomerTeam@lpsni.gov.uk

What to do next

For queries or advice about  60+ and Senior Citizen SmartPasses (which can be used to get concessionary travel on public transport), contact Smartpass - Translink.