Page modified at: 21/02/2010
Hepatitis C, sometimes called hep C or HCV, is a virus that is carried in the blood which infects and damages the liver.
A virus is a tiny particle that needs to infect and control the cells of your body in order to live and reproduce. The hepatitis C virus infects the cells in your liver, causing inflammation (swelling and tenderness) and fibrosis. In people with chronic (long-term) hepatitis C infection, inflammation and fibrosis continue to spread. Over time, usually many years, this can lead to cirrhosis.
Hepatitis C in Wales
Antibody tests for hepatitis C infection became widely available in the early 1990s and increased rates of diagnostic testing for hepatitis C have been sustained due to changes in referral patterns, increased clinical awareness and intention to treat.
In Wales, studies suggest that 0.5% of the general population (approximately 14,700 people) have been infected with hepatitis C and an estimated 12,000 people have chronic hepatitis C giving a prevalence of 0.4% of the population. About three-quarters of these individuals are unaware that they are infected.
Injecting drug use is the probable cause of the majority of reported hepatitis C infections through the sharing of blood-contaminated needles and other equipment and at least nine out of ten people will have acquired their infection in this way. Studies by NPHS have found that the prevalence rate of exposure to the hepatitis C virus in injecting drug users in Wales is 26% although there are marked regional variations. It is estimated that in Wales in a year, between 3 and 9 in every 100 injecting drug users will become infected with hepatitis C.
Click on the graph below to link to the National Public Health Service for Wales website for further information
Laboratory-confirmed hepatitis C in Wales per 100,000 per week: 2007-2008
What happens if I'm infected with hepatitis C?
People react differently to the hepatitis C virus. As the hepatitis C virus can take many years to make itself known, you could be living with it for many years without realising it. The hepatitis C virus disappears in one in four people with no lasting damage. However, up to one in three people with the virus are likely to develop cirrhosis – a serious liver disease – within 20 to 30 years. Other people will live with mild liver problems.
Wheere can I get more information about Hepatitis C?
The British Liver Trust have excellent information on Hepatitis C ?