What is hep C?
This section provides information about the stages and genotypes of the hepatitis C virus.
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Hepatitis C (HCV) is a virus that infects the liver.
Hepatitis C is passed via blood-to-blood contact. This means that blood infected with the virus must get into the bloodstream of another person to be passed on.
Without treatment, hepatitis C can cause serious damage to the liver. Untreated HCV may eventually lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer or liver failure. With treatment, it’s usually possible to cure hepatitis C after just a few months.
What are the stages of hepatitis C?
There are two stages of hepatitis C:
- Acute hepatitis C – diagnosed within the first six months of the infection
- Chronic hepatitis C – diagnosed after the first six months of the infection
If you have been diagnosed with acute hepatitis C, your healthcare professional may recommend treatment or waiting to see whether your body is able to clear the infection naturally.
Around 1 in 5 people with acute hepatitis C are able to clear the infection this way.
If the healthcare professional has suggested this approach, you should have a blood test a few months after you have been diagnosed to see whether your body has cleared the virus on its own.
However, if this has not worked, you should start a course of treatment.
If you have been diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C, treatment should begin as soon as possible.
Find out more about the different types of treatment for hepatitis C on our Treatment page.
What are the genotypes of hepatitis C?
You may have heard healthcare professionals discuss the genotype of your hepatitis C.
A genotype is the strain or the genetic makeup of the hepatitis virus.
There are 6 genotypes of hepatitis C.
Knowing which genotype you have is important because that helps healthcare professionals decide the right treatment for you.
The most common genotypes in the UK are genotypes 1 and 3.
How did I get hepatitis C?
You may have been exposed to hepatitis C if you have ever:
- shared equipment (needles, syringes, spoons, straws) used to take recreational or performance-enhancing drugs, such as anabolic steroids, even once
- had a blood transfusion or organ transplant in the UK before the mid-1990s
- had medical or dental treatment in a country where infection control procedures may be poor
- had tattoos, piercings, acupuncture or electrolysis where infection control procedures may be poor e.g. unlicensed venues, the armed forces or in prison
- shared personal hygiene products, such as razors and toothbrushes, which may have small droplets of blood on them
- had unprotected sexual contact where blood was present
- worked in an environment where you may have come into contact with infected blood, such as through a needlestick injury
- been exposed to the hepatitis C virus while your mother was pregnant (around 5% of mothers who have hepatitis C will pass the infection on to their baby).
Find out more about how hepatitis C is spread on our Risks and causes page.