What is hepatitis B (HBV) & hepatitis C (HCV)?
Hepatitis B (HBC) and hepatitis C (HCV) are members of the hepatitis virus family that can cause chronic liver disease. There’s are several different viruses in this family including hepatitis A, B, C, D and E.
Hepatitis C is the most commonly found type of hepatitis virus in the Western world.
Hepatitis B is less common in the UK than other parts of the world, but certain groups are at an increased risk. Hepatitis B is more widespread in sub-Saharan Africa, east and southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands.
How is hepatitis B & C transmitted?
Hepatitis B & C is transmitted through infected blood. This can take the form of:
- Infected medical blood products (this is rare these days as such products are rigorously screened)
- Haemodialysis, i.e. those on kidney dialysis where the equipment is not kept sterile.
- Having a blood transfusion in a country where blood is not tested for hepatitis – all blood donations in the UK are tested for the infection.
- The blood of someone with hepatitis getting into an open wound, cut or scratch – in rare cases, being bitten by someone with hepatitis B can also spread the infection.
- Through the sharing of dirty or infected needles and drug paraphernalia (including spoons and filters). Intravenous drug users who share their needles are at risk.
- Sharing toothbrushes or razors contaminated with infected blood
- Having a tattoo, body piercing, or medical or dental treatment in an unhygienic environment with unsterilised equipment.
- Mother to baby transmission during childbirth. This is uncommon but can happen at the time of birth. Hep C has not been found to cause problems during pregnancy. All pregnant women in the UK are offered screening for hepatitis B; babies of infected mothers are vaccinated immediately after birth to help prevent infection.
- Having sex with an infected person without using a condom. This is more common for hepatitis B. Hepatitis C can be transmitted through sex between a man and a woman, but the risk is low. The risk of hepatitis C transmission is higher with unprotected anal sex between two men; using condoms will decrease this risk. All people with multiple sex partners should use condoms to reduce the risk of getting hepatitis C and STIs. Any sexual activity that has the potential for blood-to-blood contact increases the risk of transmitting hepatitis C.
Hepatitis is not spread by kissing, holding hands, hugging, coughing, sneezing or sharing crockery and utensils.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis B & C?
Most people (about 70% – 80%) with acute (early) hepatitis B or hepatitis C infection do not experience any symptoms or show signs of the infection.
Most people who are exposed to hepatitis become chronic carriers – they can have it for many years without any symptoms. For this reason, it’s important to get tested.
If hepatitis B or C symptoms do occur, they usually appear within two weeks to six months after being exposed. Indeed, it’s common to have the infection for 10-15 years before even being diagnosed.
For those who do develop symptoms related to hepatitis B & C, they’re generally mild and flu-like and may include:
- A yellow discolouration of the skin and whites of the eyes, called jaundice. This is the most common symptom when symptoms are present.
- Feeling very tired
- Sore muscles, general aches and pains
- Abdominal pain – particularly above the liver
- Joint pain
- Nausea or vomiting. A general sense of feeling unwell.
- Stomach pain
- Loss of appetite
- Itchy skin
- Dark urine
- Diarrhoea. (With hepatitis B, stools are sometimes grey-coloured.)
Hepatitis B & C complications
Given that someone can be infected with hepatitis C and not know for many years, it can be very dangerous. Left untreated, hepatitis C can lead to:
- Liver inflammation (which is what hepatitis is)
- Cirrhosis – the degeneration of the liver. Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver caused by long-term liver damage. The scar tissue prevents the liver working properly eventually leading to liver failure – although this process can take several years, providing opportunity for treatment.
- Liver cancer
- Fulminant hepatitis B. This is a rare complication where the immune system attacks the liver and causes extensive damage. The liver can stop working properly and is often fatal if not treated quickly.
Order a Discreet Hepatitis B & C Home Test Kit
Order a discreet Hepatitis B & C Home Test Kit. Get the convenience of home testing with the reassurance of professional clinical analysis. Your results are delivered quickly and securely online.
Our Hepatitis B & C home blood test kit checks for the presence of two types of Hepatitis – B & C – to allow for early detection of Hepatitis.
This Hepatitis B & Hepatitis C is advised if you:
- have a partner who has been diagnosed with an STI
- have entered a new sexual relationship with someone
- have had unprotected sexual intercourse
- have symptoms that indicate the presence of an STI
What’s included in the test kit?
- Gentle fingerprick blood testing kit
- FREE post & packaging
- Results usually within 24 Hours
- Accredited laboratory testing by clinical professionals
- Personalised report with detailed guidance in your online, secure dashboard
- The same accuracy and quality as your GP or hospital
What is tested?
- Hepatitis B (HBV). This tests detects the presence of Hepatitis B antigens which indicate your body has started an immune response against the virus. Only some people develop symptoms, and will fight off the infection without realising they had it. Additionally, since the virus can still be spread to other people you should get tested if you are at risk.
- Hepatitis B Core Antibody (Anti-HBc (IgG/IgM)) This test detects the presence of the Hepatitis B core antibody, which indicates either a previous or active hepatitis B infection. Unlike the surface antibody, the core antibody does not provide protection (immunity) against the virus.
- Hepatitis B Surface Antibody (Anti-HBs) A “positive” or “reactive” anti-HBs test indicates the presence of antibodies to the hepatitis B virus. These antibodies provide protection – immunity – from the further infection from the virus. Hepatitis B surface antibodies (Anti-HBs) are present in the blood after recovering from a previous infection, or from having received a hepatitis B vaccination.
- Hepatitis B Surface Antigen (HBsAg). Hepatitis B Surface Antigen is a protein found on the outside of the Hepatitis B virus. It’s the first serologic biomarker that can be detected after a new acute infection. Its presence in your blood is used to identify the presence of the Hepatitis B virus.
- Hepatitis C (HCV). This test detects antibodies exists in the blood, which indicates your immune system is responding to the presence of the virus. Importantly, Hepatitis C is often symptomless until significant liver damage has occurred, so it is important to be checked if you are at risk.
Hepatitis B & C Treatment
Hepatitis B treatment
Hepatitis B vaccination and immune globulin
Talk to your doctor immediately if you think you have been exposed to hepatitis B within the last 24 hours. If you have not been vaccinated, it may be possible to prevent infection by receiving the hepatitis B vaccine and an injection of HBV immune globulin. This is a solution of antibodies that work against HBV.
Treatment options for hepatitis B
Acute hepatitis B usually doesn’t require treatment. Most people will overcome an acute infection on their own. However, rest and hydration will help you recover.
Antiviral medications are used to treat chronic hepatitis B. These help you fight the virus. They may also reduce the risk of future liver complications.
You may need a liver transplant if hepatitis B has severely damaged your liver. A liver transplant means a surgeon will remove your liver and replace it with a donor liver. Most donor livers come from deceased donors.
Hepatitis C treatment
Not everyone infected with hepatitis C will need treatment. For some people, their immune systems may be able to fight the infection well enough to clear the infection from their bodies. If this is the case for you, your doctor will probably want to monitor your liver function with regular blood tests.
For people with immune systems that can’t clear the infection, there are several options for treating hepatitis C. Treatment is usually reserved for people with serious liver damage and scarring, and no other conditions that prevent treatment.
Treatment options for hepatitis C
Treatment for chronic hepatitis C (those infected for 6 months or more) involves:
- tablets to fight the virus
- a test to see if your liver is damaged
- lifestyle changes to prevent further damage
There are 6 main strains of the virus. In the UK, the most common strains are genotype 1 and genotype 3. You can be infected with more than 1 strain. You’ll be offered the medicine most appropriate for your type of hepatitis C.
During treatment, your doctor will prescribe blood tests to check that your medicine is working. If it’s not, you may be advised to try another medicine. This will only affect a small number of people.
Your doctor will also assess your liver for damage (scarring), either with a blood test or a scan called a fibroscan.
At the end of your treatment, you’ll have a blood test to see if the virus has been cleared and a second blood test 12 or 24 weeks after treatment has stopped.
If both tests show no sign of the virus, this means treatment has been successful.