Aims  To assess how much patients with hepatitis C virus infection know about their condition and what impact it has on their lifestyle.

Materials and methods  A multiple-choice questionnaire was administered anonymously to 364 hepatitis C virus-infected subjects just before their first specialist visit.

Results  Even before hepatitis C virus infection was diagnosed, 257 subjects (70.6%) already knew something about this infection. Overall, 36% of patients had changed the way they behaved within the family, 25.5% had changed their sexual habits, 46.9% had changed their diet, and 69% reported having stopped or limited their alcohol intake after being told they were hepatitis C virus positive. Hepatitis C virus infection had a negative impact on the psychological status in 44.2% of patients. This effect was significantly greater among women and was independent of either the duration of their infection or any counselling received from the general practitioner. The need for specific treatment was reported by 59.8%. A demand for more detailed information about hepatitis C virus was expressed by 89.9% of patients.

Conclusions  Hepatitis C virus changes all aspects of lifestyle and psychological status. The patients’ strong demand for more information suggests that counselling and educational programmes must be an integral part of the activities of both the general practitioner and the specialist.