Many people who have hepatitis are unaware they have the infection, because the viruses can be symptomless. This means they aren’t getting the treatments they need and are possibly passing the virus on to others without knowing.
The majority of cases of hepatitis B are in migrants who have acquired infection overseas in endemic countries prior to arrival in the UK. Communities at higher risk of getting hepatitis B in the UK include people who inject drugs, gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men who are having sex with multiple partners, sex workers and people detained in prisons or immigration detention centres.
Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men who are having condomless sex with multiple partners or injecting chems are at increased risk of hepatitis B and C. Testing is vital and should be done as part of a regular routine sexual health check-up. Hepatitis B infections can be prevented by taking up the offer of hepatitis B vaccination.
Hepatitis in the UK and managing your health
As of 2021, an estimated 206,000 people are living with a chronic hepatitis B infection in England and 92,900 people are living with hepatitis C infection in the UK.
Hepatitis B and C are viral infections that affect the liver and are passed on through blood, semen and vaginal fluids.
If you’re stopping by your local sexual health clinic for test and don’t know your hepatitis status, it’s important to ask for a test and get your vaccination if you haven’t had one. You can also see your GP if you have any persistent or troublesome symptoms that you think could be caused by hepatitis.
If you have ever injected drugs – even if it happened only once or years ago – you could be at risk of hepatitis C.
People who have been exposed to blood or undergone medical procedures abroad should also get tested.
Early diagnosis and treatment for hepatitis can prevent progression to serious liver disease, and for hepatitis C, treatment can clear the virus.
If left untreated chronic or long-term hepatitis can cause liver failure, which stops the liver working properly, and increase your risk of liver cancer.
Hepatitis symptoms can include:
- muscle and joint pain
- a high temperature
- feeling and being sick
- feeling unusually tired all the time
- a general sense of feeling unwell
- loss of appetite
- tummy pain
- dark urine
- pale, grey-coloured poo
- itchy skin
- yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)
People who are not sure whether they are at risk of hepatitis C can answer some short questions to find out whether they might have been exposed to the virus.
Vaccination and treatments
Completing a course of vaccination offers long term protection against hepatitis B infections.
There is no vaccination for hepatitis C, but it can be cured with effective treatments. However, it is important to be aware that you can catch it more than once, and completing treatment will not make you immune.
Improved vaccination, testing and diagnosis and treatment rates will lower the overall risk of infection and help us eliminate transmission of viral hepatitis within the GBMSM community.
Anyone at risk of hepatitis can lower their risk. Using condoms when having sex with new or casual partners, and not sharing equipment such as needles, syringes, spoons or filters can help stop transmission.
If you think you could be at risk, speak to your GP or visit your local sexual health clinic and get a free test.
For further information
- What is Hepatitis B? More on symptoms, diagnoses and treatment is available here.
- What is Hepatitis C? More symptoms, diagnoses and treatment is available here.
- People who are not sure whether they are at risk of hepatitis C can answer some short questions to find out whether they might have been exposed to the virus.