I don't feel sick, why should I get tested for hepatitis?
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Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are lazy viruses. This means, that for most people, it can take up to 20 years for damage to start appearing in the liver. This also means that most people don’t feel sick as a result of living with hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
So why would someone think about getting tested for hepatitis B or hepatitis C?
When you have hepatitis B or hepatitis C you may not notice any symptoms. Even if you don’t notice any signs, hepatitis could still be damaging your liver. Most people feel perfectly well and don’t realise that the virus is impacting on their day-to-day life. Often this is because the symptoms are things that we don’t think are serious or are things that could be caused by something else.
What are hepatitis symptoms?
Some common hepatitis symptoms include:
- Flu like symptoms e.g. headache, fever and muscles aches
- Nausea and vomiting (feeling sick in the stomach)
- Jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin)
How does hepatitis B or hepatitis C make you sick?
Hepatitis B and hepatitis C cause inflammation of the liver which damages your liver cells. If left untreated, this can lead to liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. As more liver cells are damaged and destroyed, scar tissue takes their place. This is known as fibrosis. Liver fibrosis is often referred to as liver stiffness as that is what is happening to the liver. Severe fibrosis can cause the liver to harden, preventing it from functioning as it should. This is called cirrhosis of the liver. In a small number of cases, serious damage to the liver can lead to liver cancer and, ultimately, liver failure.
Should I wait until I feel sick to get tested?
No! Everyone should be tested for hepatitis if they have been at risk of contracting the virus or if their GP has noticed some irregular liver test results. Additionally, anyone can ask their GP for a hepatitis B or hepatitis C test.
What would put me at risk for contracting hepatitis B or hepatitis C?
- Hepatitis B is transmitted by blood-to-blood contact and through semen and vaginal fluids
- Hepatitis C is transmitted by blood-to-blood contact only
- Hepatitis B and hepatitis C can be transmitted from mother to child (vertical transmission)
Some activities that might put you at risk of blood-to-blood contact include:
- injecting drug use (sharing needles, filters, spoons, tourniquets or swabs)
- tattooing and body piercing (using unsterilised equipment)
- sharing personal grooming items (e.g. toothbrushes, razors or tweezers)
- traditional or cultural ceremonies and blood rituals (using unsterilised equipment)
- blood transfusions (performed in Australia before 1990 or currently overseas in countries that don’t screen blood or blood products)
- occupational needle stick injury
Some activities that might put you at risk of contact with semen and vaginal fluids include:
- having unprotected sex (sex without a condom)
- having unprotected oral sex when there are open cuts, ulcers or sores in the mouth or on the genitals
How do I get tested?
You can get tested at:
- Your local GP
- Sexual Health Clinics
- Alcohol and Drug Services
- Aboriginal Medical Services
For more information on where to get tested visit our HEPnav Treatment Directory
Factsheet: Hepatitis B – What you need to know