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Hepatitis C and how to protect yourself from it

Published 20 December 2005. Updated 25 October 2011.

Hepatitis C is a viral inflammation of the liver. A large majority, approximately 7080 % of intravenous drugs users have been infected by it. In 80 % of the cases, the infection becomes chronic, which can lead to further liver damage.

Those infected often exhibit no symptoms for years. In the early stages of the infection, only about 25 % of those infected exhibit symptoms. Symptoms include loss of appetite, fatigue, fever and flu-like symptoms. The most obvious symptom is jaundice, which affects 20 % of those carrying the virus.

Hepatitis C can be diagnosed by a blood test. The illness can be diagnosed six weeks after the infection at the earliest. The test result can only be considered reliable eight months after the suspected infection.

Those infected should make sure that the condition of their liver is monitored and agree on regular monitoring with their doctor. Chronic, advancing Hepatitis C can sometimes be treated with interferon medication. The need for medication is assessed at a special unit for infectious diseases. Patients undergoing treatment are required to ceasing taxing their livers with the excessive use of alcohol, and/or to abandon the use of intravenous drugs. Before medication is started it is usually required that the patient has been drug-free for 12 years. Some of those infected may later develop serious diseases of the liver which may take up to 1020 years to develop.

How it is contracted

Hepatitis C usually spreads through blood contact. It is also possible to contract it through other body fluids. Hepatitis C is less likely to spread through sexual intercourse than Hepatitis B. An infected mother can transfer the Hepatitis C infection to her baby during pregnancy or childbirth. In some cases the source of infection is unclear.

The most common risk factor is the use of intravenous drugs. Hepatitis C can be contracted from shared needles, syringes and other paraphernalia relating to the preparation and injection of drugs. Rinsing the syringe in the same bowl with other syringes or transferring substances from one syringe to another also poses a risk of infection. The virus can also be contracted from razor blades, toothbrushes and tattooing equipment, if there is blood on them.

How to protect yourself

Always use a condom throughout the entire sex act when having intercourse with casual sex partners. If you use intravenous drugs, only use your own clean needles, syringes, filter and other equipment. Never make blood oaths. If you decide to get a tattoos, make sure it is applied using sterile equipment.

Other information

There is no vaccination against Hepatitis C.

Contact the following for more information:

  • Health centres (see your local phone book for contact information)
  • Polyclinics for venereal diseases (see your local phone book for contact information)
  • A-Clinics
  • Health Advice Centre Vinkki in Helsinki, tel. 040 688 1000. Other health advice centres can be found here

Pauli Karvonen
Physician at the Youth Centre of HelsinkiA-Clinic Foundation

 

References

Hepatitis C and how to protect yourself from it, a Prevent-programme fact sheet by the A-Clinic Foundation

Verivarotoimet (“Blood - Precautionary measures”), a direction sheet by the hospital district of Central Finland 11/1998.

Lappalainen M, Meurman O, Färkkilä M: Virushepatiittien ehkäisy, diagnostiikka ja hoito (“The prevention, diagnostics and treatment of viral hepatitides”). Duodecim 2000; 116 (1): 61  9.

Yleislääkärin käsikirja ja tietokanta (“Handbook and database of the general practitioner”) 3/2000, Kustannus Oy Duodecim.

 

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