What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver.

The liver is a vital organ. It breaks down harmful substances that enter the body, such as drugs, medicines and alcohol. It stores substances such as vitamins, and releases these as your body needs them. It produces proteins that help your body function properly, such as those that help wounds heal. When the liver is inflamed or damaged, its functioning can be affected. Hepatitis can be caused by heavy alcohol use, toxins, medications, supplements and certain medical conditions. However, hepatitis is most often caused by a virus. The most common types of viral hepatitis are called A, B and C. This site covers hepatitis B and C. Hepatitis B is also known as hep B or HBV and hepatitis C is also known as hep C or HCV.

What are the symptoms?

If symptoms occur, they can include:

Fever

Loss of Appetite

Yellow Skin and Eyes

Tiredness

Weight Loss

Pale Stools, Dark Urine

Feeling Sick/Vomiting

Sore Joints

Stomach Pain

How is the virus spread?

Hepatitis B is spread when blood or bodily fluids from a person infected with the hepatitis B virus enters the body of someone else. The virus is 100 times more infectious than HIV and can last for up to 7 days outside the body. Click here for more information on virus B.

Hepatitis C is spread when blood from a person infected with the hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone else. Hepatitis C is more infectious than HIV and can last for 4 days outside the body. Click here for more information on virus C.

What do I do if i test positive?

  • Seek Healthcare Support
  • Look after your liver
  • Encourage your sexual partner/s to be tested and, if applicable, vaccinated
  • Take care not to spread the infection
  • Take care not to contract other illnesses or strains of hepatitis because being sick with more than one hepatitis virus can make you sicker quicker.

‘Contracting’ the hepatitis virus means when a person who does not have the infection ‘catches’ the virus through contact with a person who is infected.

What happens if I have HIV and viral hepatitis?

When someone has HIV and viral hepatitis it is harder for their body to fight the viruses. This means that they are more likely to develop a chronic infection and complications:

  • Liver inflammation and scarring (known as cirrhosis)
  • Liver Failure
  • Liver Cancer

If you have HIV and viral hepatitis it is important to start ARVs as soon as possible and to take them every day for the rest of your life.

How do I protect my liver?

If you have hepatitis, you need to be especially careful about looking after your liver.

Alcohol increases the risk of developing complications of cirrhosis and liver failure. Avoid or reduce your intake as much as possible.

Drugs can cause liver damage. Amphetamines (including tik, cocaine), GBH and heroin are particularly hard on the liver. Avoid or reduce your use as far as possible, or change to a drug that is less likely to cause liver damage.

Always use any medication, including painkillers, as prescribed. Medication is usually broken down in the liver and taking incorrect amounts can further harm your liver. Avoid or reduce your intake as far as possible.

Try to be as healthy as possible. Enough sleep, exercise, drinking lots of water, and nutritious food all help your body fight infection.

If you are overweight, try to lose weight. Being overweight can cause fatty liver disease and diabetes, both of which harm your liver.

Be cautious of using over the counter ‘liver tonics’ or ‘liver boosters’ without checking with your health provider to ensure they are safe for you.

How do I protect my partner?

Have Safe Sex

If you have hepatitis, using condoms and lube with your sex partner/s will dramatically lower the risk of transmission. Using lube is especially important for anal sex.

Get the right treatment

Treatment for hepatitis B or C lowers the chance that you pass on the infection through sex.

Get tested

Encourage your sex partners to have a blood test for hepatitis B and C.

Get vaccinated

If your partner tests negative for hepatitis B, they can be vaccinated to protect them against the virus.

Protecting yourself if you use drugs

The hepatitis B and C viruses are very infectious and can easily spread when a person comes into contact with surfaces, equipment, or objects that are contaminated with infected blood, even in amounts too small to see.

People who use drugs can get HIV, hepatitis C and B from:

Needles & syringes

Sharing or reusing needles and syringes increases the chance of spreading HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Syringes with detachable needles increase this risk even more because they can retain more blood after they are used than syringes with fixed needles. If you inject drugs, ensure you always have your own new, clean needles and do not share with others.

Preparation equipment

Any equipment, such as cookers, cottons, water, ties, and alcohol swabs easily pick up these infections and spread them. Always ensure that you have your own equipment and do not share with others.

Other drug-use gear

Crack pipes, straws and other equipment can also transmit hepatitis viruses. Always use your own equipment and do not share with others.

Fingers

Fingers that come into contact with infected blood can spread hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Blood on fingers and hands can infect the injection site, cottons, cookers, ties and swabs.

Protecting yourself if you inject drugs

The best way to prevent viral hepatitis is to stop injecting. Switching to smoking drugs, or using opioid- substitution therapy can lower your risk for hepatitis C.

If you are unable or unwilling to stop injecting drugs, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of becoming infected.

Always use sterile (new) needles, syringes and all equipment—cookers, cottons, water, ties, and alcohol swabs—every time you inject.

Set up a clean surface before putting down your injection equipment.

Do not divide and share drugs using equipment that has already been used.

Thoroughly wash hands with soap and water before and after injecting to remove blood or germs.

Clean injection site with alcohol or soap and water before injecting. Apply pressure to injection site with a sterile pad to stop any bleeding after injecting. Do not use an alcohol swab as bleeding will continue.

Do not inject another person. Only handle your own gear. If you do inject with other people, separate your equipment from others to avoid accidental sharing.

Dispose of your used needles safely by dropping them off at a needle disposal site.

Cleaning does not kill the hepatitis C and B virus.

Bleaching, boiling, burning, or using common cleaning fluids, alcohol, or peroxide will not kill the hepatitis B and C virus. It is better not to attempt to sterilize drug-use equipment. Rather ensure you always have your own and do not share with others.