What is hepatitis C?


Important messages:
- Hepatitis C is transmitted through contact with blood, but it is also an STI.
- As an STI, it’s mainly found among gay men within specific networks.
- If you don’t treat hepatitis C, it can eventually lead to liver disease and liver cancer.
- Hepatitis C can be cured with medication. However, you can get the virus again after being cured of it.
- There is no vaccine for hepatitis C (as there is for hepatitis A and B).

Inflammation of the liver

Hepatitis means ‘inflamed liver’. Hepatitis is usually caused by a virus. The virus that causes hepatitis C is called the “hepatitis C virus” (HepC, HCV).

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The hepatitis C virus was discovered in 1989. There are 71 million people living 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 hepatitis C infection, often recently acquired, 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.

A serious STI

If 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 C

Hepatitis A, B, and C all infect the liver, but there are some important differences between the three.

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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% of the 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 hepatitis 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 have been cured.


There are six important genotypes of hepatitis C. Gay men in the Netherlands mostly get infected with genotype 1, 2 or 4. The treatment is the same for these genotypes. Today, almost anyone can be cured of hepatitis C.