Sharing a toothbrush could spread hepatitis C (Picture: Getty/iStockphoto)
Around 70,000 people in the UK do not realise they are living with hepatitis C – a curable disease but one that can lead to cancer, severe liver damage and death if left untreated.
The virus is spread by blood-to-blood contact, including through sharing toothbrushes and razors.
As part of European testing week, health experts and charities are calling on the public to take a test using NHS England’s at-home testing service.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus. Symptoms include a fever, feeling tired all the time, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, jaundice and depression.
In many cases people with hepatitis C can live with the virus for decades before noticing symptoms, at which point damage to the liver may be irreversible.
But if diagnosed early enough, the virus can be cured in almost 100% of cases using simple antivirals.
Sharing a razor can also increase spread the virus (Picture: Getty)
The most common way hepatitis C is transmitted is through shared needles and other drug-taking equipment, but sharing razors and toothbrushes, or having medical or cosmetic procedures in countries with higher rates of the virus can also increase the risk.
However, a recent survey revealed that 63% of the UK population are not aware of how the virus is spread, while 71% do not know its common symptoms.
‘I didn’t know anything about it’
Dad-of-three Keith Hathway, 48, finished treatment for hepatitis C in 2019. Keith, from Bristol, started working for the Hepatitis C Trust in 2022, helping to raise awareness of the virus and encouraging more people to test.
‘When I was diagnosed with hepatitis C it was a shock. My friends and I didn’t know anything about it. I’m lucky that it was picked up when it was.
‘It is so important people get a test if they are at risk. I think people sometimes assume that hepatitis C only affects drug users or homeless people. That’s not the case and I’ve worked with everyone from people in gyms, to people who’ve caught it from a tattoo.
‘I’m living proof that hepatitis C can be cured and treated. We just need to get more people to test.’
‘With public awareness of hepatitis C so low, there is a lack of testing within the general public – there may be thousands of people who do not know they are at risk of the virus,’ said Rachel Halford, CEO of The Hepatitis C Trust.
‘You can go many years before you experience any symptoms of hepatitis C but the damage the virus can do to your liver as it goes undetected can be life-threatening. Thankfully, hepatitis C can be cured via a short course of tablets.
‘If you are concerned about hepatitis C, it’s never been easier to get tested. The at-home testing kit from the NHS will help you to quickly and confidentially find out if you have the virus so that you can start your treatment straight away.’