We hear more and more about the injecting of crystal in recent times. This column has dealt with both the short- and long-term problems associated with crystal. The transmission of hepatitis C is one area that we have not covered.

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. Inflammation is the body’s normal response to an injury, regardless of the cause of the injury. Hepatitis can be caused by infections, chemicals and many other diseases. The liver is a large organ of the gastrointestinal system in the upper abdomen and has many functions. One of the main roles is the removal of toxic substances from the body by the liver cells, including bile, a yellow substance that is a normal breakdown product of red blood cells. One effect of an inflamed liver can be bile leaking from the liver cells. If severe enough, this can cause jaundice, a yellow discolouration of the skin, eyes and urine.

Transmission of hepatitis C is by blood to blood transmission. Sharing of any injecting equipment is the most common way of becoming infected. All injecting equipment -“ syringes, spoons, filters, water, tourniquet and swabs are high risks.

Why so many people are concerned about the injecting of crystal within the gay community is that there is so much we don’t know about how this virus is transmitted. What little we know about the injecting of crystal is that many of the users are na? injectors and tend to binge on the drug. They feel invincible and may take risks they normally would not consider. Injectors need to be extremely careful with injecting equipment when it comes to transmission of hepatitis C.

There is very little conclusive information currently about sexual transmission, but it appears that sexual transmission is more likely to occur in the presence of acute hepatitis C infection, and that the total risk of sexual transmission of the hepatitis C virus appears to be very low.

Currently there is no vaccine available for hepatitis C. Treatments consist of avoiding any further damage to the liver and for some people, the drug interferon, in conjunction with riboviron, is used.

So what does contracting hepatitis C really mean? What we know about hepatitis C is constantly changing but currently we believe 20 to 25 percent of adults recover completely. The virus leaves their system and they are no longer infectious. Seventy-five to 80 percent retain the virus, remaining infectious for life. It is believed that possibly 10 percent of chronic carriers are at risk of developing liver cirrhosis or liver cancer. There are many risks around the use of illicit drugs and many of these risks are increased if you choose to inject. Friends may tell you that the rush is greater and the peak is more intense -“ but there are down-sides. You need to be aware of both the positives and negatives before you make the decision to inject -“ hepatitis C is a real risk!

Remember: if you do not want any negative consequences, do not use the drug, and no matter how many times you have used a substance, never be blas?

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