What are Blood Borne Viruses (BBVs)?
There are three main blood borne viruses – HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C. They are passed from person to person through various routes:
Sharing of any injecting equipment including spoons, filters and water
Unprotected sex – heterosexual or men who have sex with men
Unsterile medical treatment or unsterile body piercing / tattoos (particularly from abroad)
Blood to blood contact from an infected individual (e.g. fights and bites)
HIV and Hepatitis B are more common in certain groups (e.g. men who have sex with men) or those who have had unprotected sexual activity particularly in ‘high prevalence’ areas (e.g. Sub Saharan Africa, the Far East and Eastern Europe). Hepatitis C is much more common in injecting drug users. Whilst Hepatitis C is less likely to be transmitted through sexual intercourse, it is still a possible route of transmission.
Referral and Treatment Pathways
- Hepatitis C Patient Pathway Flow Chart
- HIV Clinical Care Document
- Management of HIV in Pregnant Woman
- Management of exposure to blood borne virus infection
- Information on Instant Result HIV Self Testing
Health Needs Assessment
The BBV and Sexual Health Managed Care Network (MCN) commissioned a Sexual Health Needs Assessment which was undertaken by staff in the Directorate of Public Health. This document covers the wider aspects of sexual health services including those around Blood Borne Viruses.
How do Blood Borne Viruses Affect People?
HIV infection initially presents as a flu-like illness, and the patient is usually unaware of the infection for many years. In the long term the virus progresses and destroys the body’s natural defences (immune system). This leaves the body vulnerable to a great many infections some of which can be fatal.
Hepatitis B infection causes inflammation of the liver, which often presents as jaundice. The infection can be acute with 80% of individuals infected suffering chronic long term infection, which causes scarring of the liver (cirrhosis). This can lead to liver cancer and can be fatal in some cases. There is now an extremely effective vaccine that can prevent Hep-B infection. This vaccine is given to those most ‘at risk’ of contracting the infection.
Hepatitis C usually presents as a flu-like illness and may remain silent for many years, with the only symptoms being tiredness and poor concentration. In the long term, if undiagnosed and untreated, it may cause cirrhosis or liver cancer, which is often fatal.
What are the BBV Tests?
Each virus has its own blood tests that tell us different things about the infections:
HIV: A blood test can be taken to ascertain whether you are infected. Further tests can be carried out in the laboratory to monitor the status of the immune system on a regular basis (CD4 Count).
Hepatitis C: The initial test is an antibody test. If this is positive, another test (PCR) is carried out to determine whether the virus is still present in the body and what Genotype (virus type) the patient has.
Hepatitis B: The initial test is an antibody test. This informs the clinician whether the infection is current or a marker of past infection.
Some of these BBV viruses may take 3-6 months for antibodies to be detected in the blood sample.
Why have BBV Screening?
All three viruses can cause serious illness which may lead to death after a lengthy infection.
There is now treatment for Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C that can often cure the infection, and treatment for HIV that can successfully manage the disease.
The drug treatment regimes can be quite challenging with many side-effects. However first-rate nurse specialist advice and support is available. HIV treatment will be lifelong.
Having a diagnosis of a BBV infection allows you to protect/improve your own health (e.g. reducing alcohol consumption, good dietary intake, stopping smoking and taking regular exercise) all improve health outcomes. Onward transmission of your BBV can be reduced by taking simple precautions (e.g. always practicing safe sex and not sharing drug injecting equipment). Women can also make choices about pregnancy and the safe delivery of their babies.
Treatment can greatly reduce the risk of HIV and Hepatitis B being passed on to the baby.
Think you may be affected and want to get tested? Find your nearest Hepatitis Support Centre or call NHS Inform’s Hepatitis helpline: 0800 22 44 88 (Open: 8am–10pm)
Forth Valley Hepatitis C Patient Stories
Listen to our local area radio adverts to help raise awareness of the risks of Hepatitis C and information on how to receive treatment or screening tests.