What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. Hep C may result in liver disease. For some people this can lead to cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver, and eventually liver failure and death after many years.
Hep C is caused by infected blood entering a person’s bloodstream, mainly through unprotected fucking and sharing injecting equipment. It can also be transmitted through sharing drug snorting equipment, crack pipes, toothbrushes, razors, also oral sex and tattooing or body piercing with unsterile equipment.
Strictly speaking Hep C isn’t considered an STI, however there is now definitive evidence that it is being passed on during sex – and especially during group sex if the play is particularly rough. It can be transmitted when tiny amounts of blood are present on fingers, fists, toys or dicks which are moved from one arse to the next without being cleaned.
Hep C is an increasing problem for gay and bi men, and especially for those who already have HIV. Fucking without condoms is the main risk for sexual transmission and this risk is amplified with any sort of arse play that affects the inner lining the anus. This means fisting, bareback fucking, rough sex, unwashed sex toys, prolonged fucking sessions – especially chem and group sex all significantly amplify the risk of contracting Hep C. All of these acts involve the possibility of broken skin and blood, making it an easy entry point for Hep C to get inside your bloodstream.
You probably won’t know at first, the early symptoms for Hep C may be absent and can take years after the initial infection to show up. If they are present, symptoms may include fatigue, nausea, pain under the ribs, sweating and intolerance of fatty diets.
75% of people infected with Hep C may carry the virus in their blood for life 15% of these people may develop cirrhosis of the liver. A small number of people with cirrhosis may develop liver cancer or liver failure.
Hep C can be detected with a blood test.
It’s wise for sexually active guys to test regularly for HEP C, at least once every year, but more so if you are having lots of sex, any unprotected sex, chem sex or group sex. For HIV positive guys the need to test more regularly is even higher. Co-infection with HIV and HEP C is common and it’s not a good combination to have.
There is no vaccination against Hep C. If you have had Hep C and cleared it, you will retain antibodies in your blood, however, unlike Hep A and B this will not mean that you are immune to catching it again. People that are not able to clear Hep C, will need to be regularly monitored with blood tests to check liver function.
There are treatments available to help clear Hep C and to help stop the progression of liver damage, cirrhosis (liver scarring), liver cancer or liver failure. These treatments may not be suitable for all people and this can depend on a range of different issues.
The earlier you detect Hep C in your body, the better, as you can take steps to reduce the risk of passing it on, and also be assessed by a liver specialist who can decide whether or not you would benefit from treatment. As with all STIs the longer you leave it, the worse it will get.
Speak to your doctor about treatment options.
For guys with both HIV and Hep C trying to treat both of these can be a little more complicated.
To reduce the risks of catching Hep C avoid coming into contact with another person’s blood.
Always use condoms and water based lube when fucking, if fisting use gloves and lube and keep sex toys like dildos covered. If you are sharing the love around be sure to use new condoms, new gloves and clean covered toys between different partners.
Always wash your hands and any sex toys thoroughly before and after sex (more so – if you are having a prolonged session).
Avoid sharing drug taking equipment and personal toiletries, especially: needles, crack pipes, snorting straws/notes, razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers etc…
This is a common and serious combination of viruses to have. Common because, the methods of contracting HIV and Hep C are the same and there is an attitude that if you are HIV positive then you no longer need to be worried about condoms if you are fucking other positive guys. Being HIV positive can increase the amount of Hep C in the bloodstream meaning that the risk of passing on Hep C is increased.
For guys who are co-infected with both HIV and Hep C, treatment for both is possible, however treatment for HIV will take priority and this is because untreated HIV will increase the levels of Hep C in the system. Some guys will need treatment for both especially if the liver is showing signs of liver damage.
The problem here is that some HIV medications will also cause inflammation of the liver and for this reason starting treatment for both HIV and Hep C at the same time is generally not recommended. Starting HIV treatment has also been known to briefly reactivate Hep C symptoms. Guys who are HIV and Hep C co-infected will need to closely monitor their liver function and avoid antiviral (anti HIV) medications associated with liver problems.
Where can I test?
If you are a resident of the boroughs of Greenwich or Medway, then you can order a home test kit to test for Hepatitis C from this website. These are completely free and you'll get your result by text in five working days of the Lab receiving your samples.