Hepatitis C is an infectious inflammation of the liver that is triggered by the hepatitis C virus.
How is hepatitis C transmitted?
The pathogen is transmitted through contact with the blood of an infected person. Sexual transmission of the virus is very rare and has been observed with significant frequency only in HIV-positive MSM.
A significant source of infection are transfusions of blood or blood products in countries that do not test donor blood for hepatitis C. Switzerland had an increased risk of infection from blood transfusions and organ transplants before 1992, and from transfusions of blood products before 1987.
Intravenous drug use presents a high risk of infection through the sharing of needles and syringes. There is also an increased risk of infection for users of snorting drugs such as cocaine, as well as through the use of non-sterile instruments during tattooing or piercing.
What are its symptoms and its consequences?
In most cases the infection progresses with no symptoms and is therefore not even noticed. 5% to 10% of patients suffer from jaundice (yellowing of the white of the eye and the skin), in other words, acute hepatitis. 20% to 30% of infected persons recover completely from acute hepatitis C. 70% to 80% of patients develop a chronic infection. Among these patients, between 5% and 30% run the risk of developing cirrhosis of the liver as a delayed consequence decades after the infection. Those affected are at increased risk of developing hepatocellular (liver cell) cancer.
How is hepatitis C tested for?
A hepatitis C infection is usually diagnosed with a blood test.
How is hepatitis C treated?
Hepatitis C is treated with antiviral drugs. Currently available drugs cure the infection in 90% of all cases. Hepatitis C treatment is covered by compulsory health insurance.
A cured hepatitis C infection does not confer immunity – it is therefore possible to contract hepatitis C repeatedly.
Should sexual partners get treatment as well?
The person concerned should discuss with her or his physician where the infection might have come from and whom it might already have been passed on to. Partners should get tested as well, especially if they have come into contact with blood.
In case of an infection, lovelife.ch provides tips on how to inform your partner.
How can the (re-)infection be prevented?
In contrast to hepatitis A and B, no vaccination exists against hepatitis C, but there are protective measures: syringes, needles, cocaine tubes, filters, spoons, etc., should not be shared with others. Only sterilised instruments must be used for tattoos or piercings, as they are for medical interventions. During sex, it is important that no blood get in contact with mucous membranes. This applies particularly for harder sexual practices, where the anal canal may suffer injuries, as well as for contact with menstrual blood.
Source: Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) 2022, lovelife.ch