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Hepatitis C

Hep C is caused by a virus carried in blood. It attacks your liver. The liver is important because it has over 500 functions in our body.

In Canada, about 250,000 people are living with Hep C. Around 20% of people don’t know they have the virus. People can have Hep C and not know it and also be passing the virus on to others.

Check out this Hep C pamphlet for more information.

How do people get Hep C?
For Hep C there is only one Unsafe Fluid: blood

The virus is passed by blood-to-blood contact. Blood with the virus must get into the bloodstream of another person. This means all other body fluids are safe from getting Hep C, including tears, sweat, urine, saliva, and vomit.

Risky Behaviours:

  • Sharing needles, pipes, straws, cookers, filters, ties, or water for drug use with anyone else, including your sexual partner. Sharing means passing on, selling, giving or lending any of your stuff.
  • Piercing or tattooing equipment (including ink) already used on someone else.
  • Anything that might have blood on it, like razors, nail clippers and toothbrushes already used by someone else, even if you can’t see the blood.
  • Unprotected sex with someone who has Hep C and there is blood.
  • Reusing medical equipment that was not properly sterilized (such as a scalpel) or reusing needles for medical injections.

 

The Hep C virus is carried in blood and can live outside the body for up to 4 days or even as long as 6 weeks in room temperature.

In certain conditions, such as inside a syringe, HCV can survive for up to 8 weeks.

People can get Hep C from sharing anything with blood on it, even if they can’t see the blood.

If someone has both Hep C and HIV they would be considered to be co-infected.
You can get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B but there’s no vaccine for Hep C. Even if you got rid of the hepatitis virus before, you are not immune and could get it again.

Testing

You can have Hep C and not even know it. Some people have the virus for years before they see signs and become sick.

The only way to know if you have Hep C is to get tested.

If you were involved in risky behavior we would recommend getting a Hep C test as well as HIV and other STI tests . You can get a Hep C test done by your doctor, at a walk-in clinic, or at a Teen Clinic.

A Hep C test is a blood test. A nurse or a doctor would take a small amount of your blood, and then send it away for testing. There are 2 separate tests that happen. The first test sees if someone has been exposed to the virus, called an HCV antibody test. The second test shows if they actually have hep C, or if they were only exposed, that’s the viral load test. About 25% of people will spontaneously clear the virus, so they might test positive for the first test and negative for the second.
These tests can take up to two weeks to come back, and they will ask you to come back to receive your results in person. This is because they don’t want to give that kind of information out over the phone.

During that two week wait, people can feel lots of emotions including feeling anxious, frustrated, angry, in denial, and/or scared; fear of what it will mean for their lives, relationships and health.

If the test comes back positive, the doctor will tell them a list of things they need to do to keep themselves healthy such as taking the proper medications, resting, eating well, reducing drug and alcohol use, joining a support group, and getting counselling.

When someone’s test comes back with a negative result (meaning they don’t have any signs of Hep C in their blood), the nurse or doctor might ask you to come back after 3 months to get tested again. This is because of the Hep C window period.

Hep C Window Period

It can 2- 3 months for Hep C to show itself in someone’s blood after the point of infection. A person could pass Hep C to another person right away, but Hep C wouldn’t always show up on a test until after the window period.

Treatment

The Hep C virus attacks your liver. Your body can try to fight the virus—and sometimes it can win—but the Hep C virus is very strong.
There are medications that help people fight the virus. For people who don’t take the medications or if the medications didn’t work, they might become really sick and develop scarring on their liver or develop liver cancer. In Canada, Hep C is the number one reason for liver transplant.

Hep C treatment can cure Hep C. The treatment can last 8, 12 or 24 weeks.
The medication that someone would take to treat Hep C can be expensive and cause a variety of side effects, which can make it hard to take them.

Being Safer
There are ways to stay safer, here are some tips:

  • Remember when it comes to substance use its not just new needles—use new cookers, filters, ties, acidifiers, swabs and water every time as well. If snorting drugs use your own straw or bill and don’t share it with others. You can get new gear from the Street Connections van
  • Use new supplies for piercings and body modifications every time.
  • Tattooing is safest in a professional studio with a sterilizer, sterile equipment and needles and new ink. If you’re in prison or doing it yourself, have your own tattoo gun (and ink) and don’t share.
  • Have your own razors, toothbrushes and anything else that might get blood on it.
  • Use a condom or sex dam for sex every time to be extra safe.
  • Blood infected with hep C can live outside the body for up to 6 weeks. Cover all wounds/sores.
  • Get tested! If you test positive consider taking treatment medication, reducing alcohol and other substances.

Questions About Hep C

How does someone get Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is only spread through one body fluid – blood. Activities like sharing needles and having unprotected sex with someone who has Hep C are ways it can be spread from person to person. For more info on how what Hep C is, how to get tested, and how to be safer, check out the other sections of this page.
How would you know if you had Hepatitis C?
There are not a lot of symptoms from the Hepatitis C virus right away. The only way to know for sure if you have Hep C is to get tested. The test for Hep C is a blood test, you can get one at a health centre or teen clinic. For more info on testing for Hep C, scroll up and check out the Testing & Treatment section above.
Can you get Hep C from sharing needles?
Yes, you can get Hep C from sharing needles as well as sharing drug works (straws, pipes, etc.). The Hep C virus is carried in blood and can live outside the body for up to 6 weeks and sometimes even longer. You can get Hep C from sharing anything with blood on it, even if you can’t see the blood. For more info on how what Hep C is, how to get tested, and how to be safer, check out the other sections of this page.