What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus.  It can cause either "acute" or "chronic" illness.  Acute hepatitis C is a newly acquired infection that causes illness within six months or less of exposure to the hepatitis C virus.  Chronic hepatitis C results from the hepatitis C virus remaining in the body for six months or more.  Chronic hepatitis C infection can cause long-term illness including cirrhosis and liver cancer. 

How is hepatitis C spread (transmitted)?
Transmission occurs when blood or other body fluids from an infected person enters the body of an uninfected person. This may happen through sharing of needles or "works" when "shooting" drugs, through accidental needle sticks, or from an infected mother to baby during birth. Sexual transmission can occur but is much less efficient than transmission through blood exposure.  Hepatitis C is not spread through kissing, hugging, breastfeeding, sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses, coughing, sneezing, food, water, or casual contact.

What are the signs and symptoms?
Most people (80%) do not experience any symptoms. Some people experience abdominal pain, loss of appetite, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, dark urine, or jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes).

How soon do symptoms appear?
Symptoms may occur from 2 weeks to 6 months after infection but usually within 2 months.

What are the long-term effects?
Most infected persons (75-85%) develop a chronic infection. With chronic infection, the virus is not cleared from the body and can lead to liver disease in about 70% of persons.

How long is a person able to spread hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C appears in the blood 1 or more weeks prior to symptoms. Chronically infected persons carry the virus indefinitely therefore may transmit it to others if prevention methods are not undertaken.

If I clear the virus, can I become re-infected?

Yes. Hepatitis C antibodies are not protective, unlike some other infectious diseases. Therefore, it is important not to expose yourself to the blood of others.

How is hepatitis C diagnosed?
Only a doctor can diagnose hepatitis C. Diagnosis is based on a laboratory test for hepatitis C.
(See Testing Information-Hepatitis C Fact Sheet)

What is the treatment and medical management for hepatitis C?
It is important that all persons who are hepatitis C positive be linked to care and evaluated by their provider. Treatment options can be complex and not everyone needs treatment. Presently, treatment options include combination therapy using ribavirin with pegylated interferon and/or with the addition of polymerase and protease inhibitors.  Additional treatment options are in development and may be available within the next few years. 

How can the risk of chronic liver disease be reduced among people chronically infected with hepatitis C?

See your doctor regularly.  Additional tests may be needed to check to see if you have liver damage.  Do not drink alcohol.  Check with your doctor before taking any medications, even over-the-counter and herbal medicines may be toxic to your liver.  You may need to get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B.

How can hepatitis C be prevented?

  • People with hepatitis C should be aware that their blood and possibly other body fluids contain the virus.
  • Do not shoot drugs. If you do, never share needles or works.
  • Do not share toothbrushes, razors, needles, or other personal care items.
  • If you are a health care worker, use standard barrier precautions.
  • Hepatitis C can be transmitted through sexual contact, but is rare.  Use of condoms may help reduce the change of hepatitis C transmission.
  • Persons with hepatitis C should not donate blood, tissues, or organs.
  • There is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C infection.

This fact sheet is for informational purposes only. It should not be used for self-diagnosis or as a substitute for consultation with a health care provider. If you think that you may have this infection, or have questions about the disease described above, you should consult your health care provider.

For additional information on this disease, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

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