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Hepatitis C Information

Answers to Questions About Hepatitis C

What is Hepatitis C? 

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. There are several different infectious causes of hepatitis, and the most common types are Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. Hepatitis C infection is often asymptomatic, meaning the infection causes no symptoms, but can still lead to a chronic infection that causes liver damage and sometimes death. There is an effective treatment available so it’s important to know whether you are infected because treatment can cure the infection and prevent liver damage.

There are two types of Hepatitis C:

  • Acute Hepatitis C virus infection is a short-term illness that occurs within the first six months after someone is exposed to the Hepatitis C virus. For most people, acute infection leads to chronic infection.
  • Chronic Hepatitis C virus infection is a long-term illness that occurs when the Hepatitis C virus remains in a person’s body. Hepatitis C virus infection can last a lifetime and lead to serious liver problems, including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or liver cancer.

How is Hepatitis C spread? 

Hepatitis C infection may occur from blood from someone who is infected. The most common sources are: 

  • Sharing needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject drugs
  • Needlestick injuries in health care settings
  • Being born to a mother who has Hepatitis C

Less commonly, a person can also get Hepatitis C virus infection through:

  • Sharing personal care items that may have come in contact with another person’s blood, such as razors or toothbrushes
  • Having sexual contact with a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus

There is no vaccine to prevent Hepatitis C.

Can Hepatitis C be spread through sexual contact?

Yes, but the risk of transmission from sexual contact is believed to be low. The risk increases for those who have multiple sex partners, have a sexually transmitted disease, engage in rough sex, or are infected with HIV. 

Can you get Hepatitis C by getting a tattoo or piercing?

A few major research studies have not shown Hepatitis C to be spread through licensed, commercial tattooing facilities. However, transmission of Hepatitis C and other infectious diseases is possible when poor infection-control practices are used during tattooing or piercing. 

Can Hepatitis C be spread within a household?

Yes, but it doesn’t occur very often. If Hepatitis C virus is spread within a household, it’s most likely a result of direct, through-the-skin exposure to the blood of an infected household member.

Can Hepatitis C be spread through a mosquito or insect bite?

No, Hepatitis C virus has not been shown to be transmitted by mosquitoes or other insects.

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis C?

Most people with Hepatitis C — about 70-80 percent — do not have symptoms and do not know they are infected. If symptoms do occur, they can include fever, feeling tired, loss of appetite, upset stomach, abdominal pain, vomiting, dark urine, gray-colored stool, joint pain, and yellow skin and eyes.

How soon after exposure to Hepatitis C do symptoms appear?

If symptoms do occur, the average time is six or seven weeks after exposure, but this can range from two weeks to six months. 

How do you know if you have Hepatitis C?

You may not have any symptoms. The only way to know if you have Hepatitis C is to get tested.

How do you get tested for Hepatitis C?

Doctors use a blood test called a Hepatitis C antibody test, which looks for antibodies to the Hepatitis C virus. Antibodies are chemicals released into the bloodstream when someone gets infected. Antibodies remain in the bloodstream even if the person clears the virus. A positive result means a person was exposed to the virus at some time in his or her life. A separate test is needed to determine whether the Hepatitis C virus is still present in the person’s bloodstream.

Can Hepatitis C be treated?

Yes, both acute and chronic Hepatitis C can be treated. Acute infection can clear on its own without treatment in about 25 percent of people. If acute Hepatitis C is diagnosed, treatment does reduce the risk that acute hepatitis C will become a chronic infection.

Several medications are available to treat chronic Hepatitis C, including new treatments that appear to be more effective and have fewer side effects than previous options. 

When left untreated, Hepatitis C can cause serious health problems such as liver damage or liver cancer.

What is the treatment for Hepatitis C?

A variety of treatments are available — talk to your health care provider to determine the best option for you. Treatment is in pill form, not shots; may take 2-3 months to complete; and more than 90 percent of people who complete treatment are cured.

Is it possible to get over Hepatitis C?

Yes, for unknown reasons, approximately 15-25 percent of people who get Hepatitis C will clear the virus from their bodies without treatment and will not develop chronic infection. However, because 70-80 percent of people infected do not show symptoms, the only way to know for sure if you have the Hepatitis C virus is to be tested.

What can a person with chronic Hepatitis C do to take care of their liver?

People with chronic Hepatitis C should be monitored regularly by an experienced doctor. They should avoid alcohol because it can cause additional liver damage. They should check with a health professional before taking any prescription pills, supplements or over-the-counter medications because these can potentially damage the liver.