Terrence Higgins Trust uses cookies to improve your experience of our websites. For more information or to change the use of cookies, please click here.

Hepatitis C

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis means ‘inflammation of the liver’. It can be caused by viruses passed on during sex: different viruses cause different types of hepatitis, some more serious than others.

Hepatitis A, B and C are the most common viruses. Vaccinations can protect against hepatitis A and B and there’s a free combined vaccine that protects against both A and B. All gay and bisexual men should get vaccinated, especially if they have sex with a lot of men.

There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.

Find out more about hepatitis C prevention and treatment.

How common is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is the most serious type of hepatitis. It was only discovered in 1989 but has been around since long before then.

In this country hepatitis C is a common problem among people who inject drugs. It’s nowhere near as widespread among gay and bisexual men as hepatitis A and B.

There’s no significant spread among HIV negative gay and bisexual men but it’s much more common among HIV positive guys. Among those of us with HIV it’s a growing problem, especially among men who inject drugs, fuck without condoms, or fist without gloves or who have sex on chems. About 7% of gay and bisexual men with HIV have hepatitis C.

What causes hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is caused by a virus that’s usually passed on through contact with tiny amounts of blood, which can happen when sharing injecting drug equipment or during unprotected fucking, fisting or rimming.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis C?

Very few people notice any symptoms when they are first infected with hepatitis C. Even over time symptoms are difficult to spot, and it can take many years before you begin to feel ill. But eventually it can cause the same symptoms as hepatitis A and B:

  • mild flu-like symptoms
  • nausea
  • extreme tiredness
  • itchy skin
  • stomach pain
  • jaundice

Other symptoms can include extreme tiredness, mental confusion and depression.

Many people with untreated hepatitis C eventually develop some kind of liver disease, such as scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) or liver cancer. You may need a liver transplant.

Hepatitis C can be fatal.

How is hepatitis C passed on?

The hepatitis C virus is very easily passed on; it’s 10 times more infectious than HIV. The virus is in blood and is spread when infected blood gets into another person’s body. It’s seen as unlikely (but not impossible) that it can be passed on in semen.

It can be passed on through:

  • injecting drugs or steroids if equipment is shared, such as syringes or swabs, ‘works’ or anything used to take drugs, and possibly also sharing pipes or rolled up bank notes for snorting
  • anal sex and rimming if condoms aren’t used, especially as fucking and arse-play can cause bleeding
  • fisting
  • group sex scenes where sex toys or injecting equipment are shared. The virus is also spread when hands and cocks (even if gloves and condoms are used) go from one arse to another
  • infected blood can get in to shared containers of lube (so use pump dispensers instead)
  • chemsex increases the risk of hepatitis C as this sex is rougher and lasts longer, making bleeding more likely
  • sex scenes that draw blood, for example play piercing, CP and body piercings that bleed
  • ‘do-it-yourself’ or amateur piercing or tattooing where hygiene guidelines aren’t followed and contaminated equipment is used or shared
  • medical and other procedures involving blood that are done abroad without steps taken to prevent the spread of infections.

Having HIV and hepatitis C can make your blood and cum more infectious for hepatitis C.

Blood transfusions in the UK are safe as donations are checked for hepatitis C.

Find out how to protect yourself against hepatitis C and about getting treated.

Last review: 31/08/2018
Next review: 31/08/2021