Hepatitis is a viral illness that makes the liver sick. The three most common types are: A, B and C. Because of the job the liver does in your body, a sick liver can be a major problem.
Hep A gets into your body when you ingest tiny amounts of poo. This can happen when people prepare food without properly washing their hands first or sexually through “rimming” or oral-anal sex. When someone gets Hep A they’ll feel super crook for a few weeks, then they usually get better.
Hep A is rare in Australia.
There is no treatment but there is a vaccine, which means you can get an injection to stop you catching it in the future.
People get Hep B when the blood of someone who has Hep B gets into their blood or if they have sexual or intimate contact with someone who has it. Babies can get it at birth if their mother has it. The way to avoid Hep B is to always practice safe sex, avoid blood to blood contact (such as sharing needles when injecting drugs) and to get the vaccine. All babies in Australia get the Hep B vaccine. Some people can have Hep B and not have any symptoms while others will feel pretty sick. It’s a lot like the flu – aching joints, headaches, upset tummy and feeling super tired. There are a few medications that are used to treat Hep B if needed, but they are not a cure. If a person gets Hep B when they are young they can have more serious liver problems.
Unlike A & B, Hep C exists only in blood and cannot be caught from having sex, kissing, swallowing poo or anything like that. Hep C needs to get from one person’s bloodstream to another. Because you can’t catch Hep C from semen or vaginal fluid it is not considered an STI (sexually transmitted infection), but if blood is involved in sex, it can be a risk. We’re not entirely sure why, but Hep C seems to be more easily sexually transmitted between HIV positive men. Condoms can prevent it being passed on.
There is no vaccine for Hep C but it can be cured. To stay safe make sure you never share any equipment used for injecting drugs, always use your own clean needles. If you’re getting tattooed or body pierced, only go to businesses that are clean and legitimate. Ask them how they sterilise their equipment and how they keep you safe.
If you want to know more you can ring 1800 451 624 between 9:00am and 5:30pm Monday to Friday to talk with a sexual health nurse. It’s confidential and free if you call from a landline.