What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease caused by a virus. The virus lives in your blood and body fluids and can hurt your liver. Left untreated, hepatitis C can lead to severe illness. Hepatitis C is usually spread through contact with the blood of someone who is infected with the virus.
There are two types of hepatitis C
- Acute hepatitis C is when you first get the virus. Sometimes your body can fight off the virus. This means you will no longer have it.
- Chronic hepatitis C is when your body cannot fight off the virus, and the virus stays in your body.
- About 80 out of 100 people with chronic hepatitis C get liver problems.
- Sometimes people do not know they have hepatitis C because it can take up to 30 years before you feel sick.
What are hepatitis C symptoms?
Most people who have hepatitis C don’t have any symptoms, so they may not know they have it until the disease has caused serious liver damage. That’s why it’s important to get tested for hepatitis C if you think you’ve been exposed to it, even if you don’t feel sick.
- Muscle or joint pain
- Upset stomach/throwing up
- No appetite
How is hepatitis C spread?
- Sharing used needles or other drug injection supplies
- This includes tattoo and body-piercing needles.
- Having sex without a condom
- Touching infected blood (even in amounts too small to see)
- Touching open sores of someone who has the virus
- From a mother to her baby during pregnancy
People at risk for hepatitis C:
- People who have sex with someone who has the virus
- People who have many sex partners
- Drug users who share needles and syringes to inject drugs into their bodies
- Paramedics, emergency responders, and health-care workers
- People who are on dialysis for their kidneys
- People who got blood transfusions or organ transplants before 1992
You cannot get hepatitis C by:
- Hugging, kissing, or shaking hands
- Coughing or sneezing
- Sharing forks, spoons, or glasses
How do you prevent hepatitis C?
- Do not get tattoos or body piercings from an unlicensed shop.
- Do not share needles, syringes, or other supplies to inject drugs into your body.
- Do not use items that an infected person used such as razors, nail clippers, or toothbrushes.
Who should be tested for hepatitis C?
Anyone can get hepatitis C, but some people have a higher risk of getting it. They include people who fit any one of these descriptions:
- You were born from 1945 through 1965.
- You are a current or former injection drug user, even if you injected only one time or many years ago.
- You were treated for a blood clotting problem before 1987.
- You received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992.
- You are on long-term hemodialysis treatment.
- You have abnormal liver tests or liver disease.
- You work in health care or public safety and were exposed to blood through a needlestick or other sharp object injury.
- You are infected with HIV.
Still uncertain if you are at risk? Take our hepatitis risk assessment and get a personalized report.
Why should I be tested?
Left untreated, hepatitis C can lead to severe illness, including:
- Scarring of the liver (cirrhosis)
- Liver failure
- Liver cancer
How do you get tested for hepatitis C?
Testing for hepatitis C begins with an antibody test, which is a blood test that can detect whether your body’s immune system has ever developed the substances it needs to fight the hepatitis C virus. This can be a sign that you were exposed.
If the antibody test is positive, your doctor will ask you to return for further testing.
How is hepatitis C treated?
The latest hepatitis C treatment is much more effective than past treatments you may have heard about. Hepatitis C is treated with tablets that are taken orally for about three months. There are very few possible side effects, and more than 95 percent of the time, the patient is cured.
Acute hepatitis C is treated by:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- Medicine, if needed
Chronic hepatitis C is treated by:
- Routine check-ups to make sure your liver function is not getting worse
- Not drinking alcohol, because alcohol can make your liver worse
- Medicine, if needed