First discovered in 1989, hepatitis C 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 and, unlike HIV, can survive for long periods of time outside the body. This means that hepatitis C can 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 cured, either naturally by the body’s immune system, or with effective treatment.
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.