Q I had my ears pierced as a teenager at a rather tatty salon. Should I be worried about hepatitis C?
A Hepatitis C is a nasty liver virus, and Public Health England says many of the estimated 200,000 people who have it (including a third who are over 50) may be unaware, as the early symptoms, such as fatigue, poor appetite, nausea, tummy pain, muscle pain or fever, are often vague, or blamed on other causes. And although it can lead to cirrhosis, jaundice, liver cancer and even death, earlier, better-tolerated, and curative treatments mean the outlook has improved dramatically.
It can be passed in body fluids via contaminated/ unsterilised medical, dental, tattooing, piercing, or acupuncture equipment, and cosmetic treatments such as electrolysis or semipermanent make-up, so always check equipment is sterile/single-use. It can also be caught by sharing a drug injection needle, toothbrush or razor or unprotected sex with someone who has it. And anyone who received a UK blood transfusion before September 1991, or blood products before 1986, may also be at risk.
Getting tested is free, and offered at GP surgeries, sexual health/genitourinary (GUM) clinics and drug treatment services. Find out more at nhs.uk/conditions/hepatitis-c.