What is hepatitis C?
Inflammation of the liverHepatitis means ‘inflamed liver’. Hepatitis is usually caused by a virus. The virus that causes hepatitis C is called the hepatitis C virus (HepC, HCV).
The hepatitis C virus was discovered in 1989. There are 71 million people with the virus worldwide. In the Netherlands, about 20,000 people have hepatitis C. Gay men make up only a small percentage of this. Between 50 and 100 new cases of acute hepatitis C infection are detected among gay men in the Netherlands each year.
Hepatitis C can live in blood, sperm, rectal fluid and poo particles. Hepatitis C can be transmitted during sex. Anal sex, to be precise. Exactly how this happens isn’t fully understood. Perhaps it’s because with anal sex there is bigger chance of having small (invisible) bleeds. The risk of sexually transmitting hepatitis C during vaginal sex is negligible. As an STI, hepatitis C is mostly found among gay men. But that doesn’t mean it is found among all men who have sex with men. It’s more often found within specific networks.
A serious STIIf you do not treat hepatitis C, it can lead to liver disease and liver cancer in the future. If you are HIV-positive, liver damage is likely to happen sooner.
The difference between hepatitis A, B and CHepatitis A, B, and C all infect the liver, but there are some important differences between the three.
Hepatitis A: There is no treatment for hepatitis A; you just have to wait for it to go away by itself. This is what usually happens in the end.
Hepatitis B: The body can heal itself of hepatitis B. This happens with most adults who get it. The infection becomes chronic in about 5 per cent of cases. In some cases, you can be cured completely with medication. Hepatitis B can also be managed with medication, as is done with HIV.
Hepatitis C: The chance of the body healing itself is much lower with hepatitis C than it is with hepatitis B. Among those with HIV, only 10-15% experience self-healing. However, hepatitis C can almost always be cured with medication.
You can be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, but not against C. If you’ve ever had hepatitis A or B, you can never have it again. It’s a different story with hepatitis C. You can get hepatitis C again after you’ve been cured of it.
GenotypesThere are six important genotypes of hepatitis C. Gay men mostly get infected with genotype 1 or 4. The treatment is the same for both genotypes. Today, almost anyone can be cured of hepatitis C.
Go to next page - Symptoms and consequences of hepatitis C