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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 December, 2004, 06:32 GMT
Hepatitis C: The 'silent' virus
Blood test for Hepatitis
Hidden virus: 3% of the worldwide population could be affected
Hundreds of thousands of people are thought to be infected with the virus that causes Hepatitis C, but often they don't even know they are infected.

Many will go on to develop serious liver disease.

So today the government is launching a campaign to raise awareness but doctors warn it's too little too late.

  • On Breakfast, this morning:

  • We discussed the issue with Charles Gore of the Hepatitis C Trust, and with Catherine Goldsmith who has the disease.

    Catherine Goldsmith
    Catherine Goldsmith described her symptoms

    Catherine Goldsmith described her symptoms and said how traumatised she felt when she found out she had hepatitis C.

    She also said there was a lack of information and even her doctor didn't really know much about her illness.

  • We also discussed the issue with our resident GP Dr Rosemary Leonard and Pip Forbes Adam - who is in long-term remission from the virus..

    What causes Hepatitis C?

    There are several forms of Hepatitis which literally means inflammation of the liver.

    3% of the world's population is thought to have the virus but not everyone develops symptoms which makes it difficult to give a precise figure.

    Drinking too much alcohol and some drugs and chemicals can also lead to inflammation of the liver.

    How is the disease passed on?

    Infection takes place when blood - which can be a tiny amount - passes from an infected person to someone who isn't, usually entering their bloodstream by an open wound or cut.

    Hepatitis C: symptoms
    Mild to severe fatigue
    Anxiety
    Weight loss
    Loss of appetite
    Alcohol intolerance
    Pain in the area of the liver
    Concentration problems
    Nausea
    Flu-like symptoms
    Jaundice

    Nowadays, blood for transfusion is screened so the virus shouldn't normally be spread this way.

    Very occasionally, the virus can be passed on by sexual contact.

    An unfortunate consequence of the virus is that it can be easily spread to drug users who share needles.

    It can't be passed on through saliva but oral hygiene is important and it's wise not to share a toothbrush with someone who is infected.

    Symptoms

    Hepatitis C can be acute or chronic with symptoms often coming and going.

    It can appear as a flu like illness and sometimes, although rarely includes symptoms of nausea, vomiting, a pain in the liver region of the body or jaundice.

    when the liver becomes inflamed over a lengthy period of time, it can develop scar tissue known as cirrhosis.

    It is not possible to be vaccinated against Hepatitis C, testing for the infection involves a blood test, liver function test or possibly a biopsy to check for serious damage.

    In its worst case, a patient with Hepatitis C may vomit or pass blood during bowel motions and if this is the case urgent medical attention should be sought.

    Launch

    The Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson will launch a publicity campaign this morning which it's hoped will raise awareness into the condition.

    He'll outline details during a visit to the Liver and Anti Viral Centre, at St Mary's NHS Trust in west London.

  • BBC Breakfast

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