World Hepatitis Day 2018
World Hepatitis Day takes place each year on the 28th of July to raise awareness about the hepatitis C virus and to influence change.
The 2018 theme is ‘Find the Missing Millions’. Worldwide, 300 million people are living with viral hepatitis unaware. Without identifying the undiagnosed and linking them to care, people may never engage in treatment. On World Hepatitis Day, people from across the world will raise awareness about hepatitis targeting those who may be infected.
What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus. It can cause inflammation (swelling) and fibrosis (scarring) of the liver tissue, and sometimes significant liver damage.
Many people do not realise they have been infected with the virus because they may not have any symptoms, or they may have flu-like symptoms that can easily be mistaken for another illness. You can become infected with hepatitis C if you come into contact with the blood of an infected person.
There is currently no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. This is because the hepatitis C virus mutates (changes into a different strain) very easily, which makes it hard to create a vaccine, and the virus has different genotypes (genetic variants).
How do you become infected?
Hepatitis C is transmitted through blood to blood contact with an infected person.
Get a test for hepatitis C if you:
• have ever shared needles or equipment to inject any type of drug even if you've only injected once
• have ever shared equipment to snort or sniff drugs
• have ever been in prison
• have a tattoo, especially if you got it a long time ago or in a non-professional setting or in a prison
• are from a country where hepatitis C is common
• have ever received blood or blood products in another country where blood donations are not tested
• have ever had medical or dental treatment in a country where hepatitis C is common and infection control is poor
• were born to a mother who had hepatitis C at the time of your birth
• are a man who takes part in chemsex or has condomless, rough or extreme sex with men
• are a man who has sex with men and you have HIV
If you are an injecting drug user with a hepatitis C diagnosis then your drug use partner(s) are also advised to get tested.
How common is it?
About 700-800 new cases are notified people with hepatitis C in Ireland every year. Many people do not know they are infected.
Hepatitis C is curable
Treatment for hepatitis C used to involve injections and taking tablets for a year. This had very bad side effects and only a 50% chance of working. This type of treatment is no longer used.
Treatment now takes between 8 to 12 weeks and is a course of tablets that have hardly any side effects. Talk to a hepatitis specialist about treatment options.
You can get a test from a GP, sexual health clinic, GUM (genitourinary medicine) clinic or drug treatment service.
Drug use and Hepatitis C
The highest rate of transmission is among people sharing/using injecting equipment.
Reducing Harm Supporting Recovery: A health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland” – 2017 – 2025
Objective 2.2 of Irelands National Drug strategy aims to reduce harm amongst high-risk drug users.
It states that people who inject drugs (PWID) are a particularly vulnerable population that are susceptible to harm and need carefully managed supports to enable them attain stability and a safer and healthier life.
Infectious diseases are among the most serious health consequences of injecting drug use. Injecting drug use is one of the main modes of transmission of hepatitis C (HCV) infection in Ireland. The number of HCV cases reported to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), where injecting drug use was identified as a risk factor has been declining since 2010 when 728 such cases were reported. In 2015, 169 such cases were reported. Nevertheless, PWID make up the majority of all cases of HCV in Ireland. Chronic HCV infection may cause liver cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma and liver failure.
The Ana Liffey Drug Project in collaboration with GOSHH (Gender, Orientation, Sexual Health, HIV) Limerick developed a series of images to share on social media for World Hepatitis Day 2018. These images aim to raise awareness among people who inject, snort and smoke drugs and to encourage them to get tested.
Harm reduction information to help reduce the risks
There are always risks with drug use. It is always safest not to take unknow or illicit drugs. People can reduce the likelihood of becoming infected by following harm reduction information. People are recommended to always have their own sterile equipment to snort, inject or smoke drugs and to never share.
- Avoid using bank notes to snort drugs. Use sterile straws or a tooter and never share your snorting equipment
- If injecting, always ask for enough supplies from your needle exchange – needles, water, wipes, barrels, cookers
- Always inject yourself and avoid injecting other people
- Ask for safer injecting advice from your local drug service
- If smoking drugs, ask services for sterile pipes and never share
- Look after your lips. Pipes can get very hot and could burn your mouth and hands. Keep your lips and mouth moist
- Check in the mirror for cuts and blisters – remember cocaine and crack act like anaesthetics so you might not feel if you get cuts or burns
- Always carry condoms if using drugs. Some drugs can increase libido
For more information on hepatitis C: