WHAT IS IT?
Hepatitis C is a viral infection that can lead to serious liver damage. It is spread through blood-to-blood contact, which means it is classified as a sexually transmitted blood-borne infection (STBBI).
HOW WOULD I GET IT?
Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood contact. Some of the ways in which people get Hep C include the following:
- Having unprotected sex, especially if it is rough sex (like fisting), group sex, or sex during a person’s period. Having open sores or STIs such as herpes and HIV greatly increases the risk of getting Hep C.
- Sharing drug-use equipment (e.g. needles, syringes, filters, cookers, acidifiers, alcohol swabs, tourniquets, water, crack pipes, and snorting straws) with an infected individual.
- Sharing needles with an infected person for tattooing, body piercing, acupuncture, and/or electrolysis
- Sharing or borrowing hygiene items that might have blood on them, such as razors, nail clippers, and toothbrushes.
- Having received a blood transfusion, blood products, or a transplant before 1992.
HOW WOULD I KNOW I HAD IT?
Many people infected with Hep C develop little to no symptoms for a long time – possibly 20-30 years! General symptoms include the following:
- Abdominal discomfort
- Joint pain
- Poor appetite
- Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
- Sleep disturbances
There is a blood test available that can tell you if you are carrying the hepatitis C virus.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF AND YOUR PARTNER
- Use condoms during vaginal/penile or anal sex
- Use condoms or dental dams during oral sex
- Use condoms on shared sex toys
- Never share any form of used needles, jewelry, drug paraphernalia, tattoo ink, razors, toothbrushes, or any other item that comes in contact with blood and/or bodily fluids
- Research your chosen tattoo and piercing parlors and be aware of their cleanliness and sterilization policies
- Make an appointment to be tested regularly
TESTING AND WHEN TO GET TESTED
Hepatitis C is tested through a blood test. At the HSHC, we offer non-nominal Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and syphilis testing. You can do this at the same time as an anonymous HIV/AIDS test. With this test, your health card and personal information are required. These STBBIs are considered “reportable” to the Nova Scotia Health Authority, which means they track infection rates and follow up and will inform previous partners if they are at risk of infection. However, your blood is drawn and sent to the lab under a code which is known only by the nurse. When the test results are back from the lab, they are transferred to your electronic chart.
The difference between non-nominal and anonymous testing can be confusing! Please feel free to ask us any questions you may have about the testing process.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM YOUR APPOINTMENT AT HSHC
To ensure clients receive appropriate pre-test counselling, each visit will take between 15-45 minutes, depending on the client’s concerns and needs. The visit will start with an explanation of how the anonymous/non-nominal testing program works. Clients will be reassured that they are in a safe and confidential environment.
The nurse will use an intake form to record a history, including questions like
- “How often do you use condoms?”
- “How many sexual partners have you had in the past year?”
- “Do you use IV drugs?”, etc.
They will then decide on the best testing option for you.
Clients are encouraged to ask questions and seek clarification about risk factors and risk behaviours.
The blood test results are back within a few days, helping to minimize client’s anxiety while waiting for results.
For STBBI testing, getting your results is easy! Typically, no news is good news! If your results are unclear or positive, one of our nurses will call you to book an appointment to discuss your results.
CAN IT BE TREATED AND CURED?
About 15 – 40% of persons infected with hepatitis C are able to clear the virus on their own (i.e. they are cured) However, 60 – 80% of persons infected with the virus will develop a chronic hepatitis C infection. Chronic hepatitis C is usually for life, but sometimes people are able to be successfully treated with antiviral medication. There are also ways to minimize the symptoms and damage to the liver.
There is currently no vaccine available for hepatitis C.
IF IT ISN’T TREATED, CAN IT LEAD TO MORE SERIOUS PROBLEMS ?
Yes. Chronic infection of hepatitis C can lead to serious liver damage, including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver failure, and liver cancer. Therefore, it is highly recommended that people who develop chronic hepatitis C have their liver function monitored regularly.
HOW TO BOOK AND PREPARE FOR YOUR APPOINTMENT
BOOKING AN APPOINTMENT
Booking an appointment with us is easy! Give us a call at 902.455.9656 ext. 0. You will be speaking with either a volunteer or a medical administrator. We cannot book appointments over email or Facebook. You cannot book an appointment for someone else, even if they are your partner or child. We will need to speak with them directly.
To book for STBBI testing, we will need a first name (it can be fake!), and a phone number (in case we need to cancel your appointment unexpectedly, such as the nurse is ill, or the clinic is closed due to bad weather). That’s it! The person on the phone will outline anything you need to know to prepare for your appointment. Waitlists for STBBI testing can vary.
A health card is not necessary for HIV testing, because it is anonymous. A health card is necessary for other STBBI testing, because it is non-nominal, but not anonymous.
Are you a youth? You do not need parental consent for any of our appointments.
Don’t have access to or lost your health card? You are entitled to your health card information! Call MSI toll-free at 1-800-563-8880 (in Nova Scotia) or at 902-496-7008 from Monday-Friday 8am-5pm. We require the number and the expiry date. Another tip: take a picture of your card! You will never lose it again!
- You need to eat something and drink lots of water before coming to your appointment. Other than that, there is no prep required for this blood test.