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What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is an infection of the liver caused by a virus. There are different types of hepatitis, but the ones most commonly associated with drug use are hepatitis B and C.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B (Hep B or HBV) is known as a blood-borne virus (BBV) and is spread by blood to blood contact. It can also be present in saliva, semen and vaginal fluid.

People who use drugs and share injecting equipment have a high risk of infection. The virus can be transmitted by having penetrative or oral sex without a condom with an infected person.

Hep B can be detected with a simple blood test. Testing is widely available, for example at local sexual health clinics. The Sexual Health Scotland website provides a search facility for local sexual health services.

Most people with Hep B recover. For further information on Hep B and treatments visit the Hepatitis Info website.

Hep B can be prevented by vaccination. Drug users attending treatment services normally receive the vaccination.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C (Hep C or HCV) is a blood-borne virus (BBV), spread mainly through blood-to-blood contact. It can damage the liver, potentially causing cirrhosis and primary liver cancer. Hep C is commonly associated with injecting drug use, but there are a variety of ways in which it can be transmitted.

How Hep C is spread:

  • By sharing drug equipment such as needles or straws;
  • During medical or dental treatment in countries where Hep C is common and where equipment may not be sterilised properly;
  • Through a blood transfusion from before September 1991 all blood in the UK is now screened for Hep C;
  • From mother with Hep C to her child, before or during birth;
  • Through unprotected sex (without a condom) with someone who has the virus;
  • By having a tattoo, an ear piercing, a body piercing or acupuncture with equipment that is not sterile;
  • By sharing razors or toothbrushes which have been contaminated with blood from someone who has the virus.

Hep C is diagnosed through a blood test. For information on services offering testing and available treatments visit Hepatitis C Scotland.
Prevention of Hepatitis C relies on avoiding unprotected sex and not sharing needles or other paraphernalia. 

Viral hepatitis helpline

NHS inform has launched a telephone information line for anyone looking for more information on viral hepatitis. Their helpline is staffed between 8am and 10pm every day to answer any questions about hepatitis B or hepatitis C, and signpost to local support services.The number  0800 22 44 88.