First discovered in 1989, the Hepatitis C virus is a virus found in the blood. It is a major cause of liver disease and is often difficult to detect due to the fact that those who have it often exhibit few if any symptoms. If left untreated, Hepatitis C can eventually cause serious liver damage including liver cancer and cirrhosis.
It is spread by blood-to-blood contact but, unlike HIV, can survive for long periods of time outside the body, allowing it to be passed on through dried blood on objects and surfaces if that infected blood gets into another person’s bloodstream. An estimated 90% of infections in Scotland are among people who have ever injected drugs.
Hepatitis C can be cleared, either naturally by the body’s immune system, or with medical treatment by taking medication.
There are several strains of Hepatitis C called genotypes, a result of the virus’ ability to mutate and evolve. There are 11 recognised Hepatitis C genotypes – the most common in Scotland are genotypes 1, 2 and 3.