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Hepatitis C is a disease of the liver caused by
hepatitis C virus. Hepatitis C infection can lead to
chronic viral hepatitis, including liver damage, cirrhosis
(scarring of the liver), and liver cancer.
How is it spread?
Hepatitis C virus is mostly spread by blood from an
infected person when:
Sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. This is the most common way people get hepatitis C in the U.S.
Getting a needle stick with a needle that was used on an infected person
Sharing items that may have come in contact with another person's blood, such as razors, nail clippers, pierced earrings, toothbrushes
Being tattooed or pierced with tools that were used on an infected person
Having sexual contact with a person infected with the hepatitis C virus. The risk of getting hepatitis C from sexual contact is thought to be low.
Hepatitis C is rarely spread from a blood transfusion because:
Hepatitis C tests are done on all donated blood.
Blood and blood products that test positive for hepatitis C are safely destroyed. None are used for transfusions.
There is no risk of getting hepatitis C when donating or giving blood.
Hepatitis C is not spread by kissing,hugging, coughing, or sharing food and eating utensils.
Who is at risk of hepatitis C?
Anyone can get hepatitis C. It is important for people
at high risk of infection to be tested and treated for
hepatitis C. In the U.S., you are at a higher risk if you:
Have ever used a needle to inject drugs, even if once and long ago
Had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992
Are a health care worker who had blood exposure to mucous membranes or to non-intact skin, or a needlestick injury
Have ever been on kidney dialysis
Were born of a mother who had hepatitis C at the time
Are a Vietnam-era Veteran
Had contact with hepatitis-C-positive blood to nonintact skin or to mucous membranes
Received tattoos or body piercings in non-regulated settings
Have ever snorted drugs or shared drug equipment
Have liver disease
Have abnormal liver tests
Have a history of alcohol abuse
Have hemophilia and received clotting factor before 1987
Have had a sexual partner with hepatitis C, now or in the past
Have had 10 or more lifetime sexual partners
Have HIV infection
The only way to know if you have
Hepatitis C is to be tested. VA offers
hepatitis C testing and treatment to
What are signs of hepatitis C?
When you first get hepatitis C, it is called acute
hepatitis C. About 15% of people who have acute
hepatitis C infection clear the virus from their bodies.
The other 85% of people develop a chronic (lifelong)
hepatitis C infection. Of these, 50 to 80%, if treated,
may be cured.
Acute hepatitis C: Most people with acute
hepatitis C do not have any signs. If signs occur, the
average time is 6-7 weeks after exposure, but can be
less or more. Some people can have mild to severe
Yellow skin or eyes (jaundice)
Loss of appetite
Chronic hepatitis C: 3-5 million persons in the United
States have chronic hepatitis C infection. Most people
do not know they are infected. They don't look or feel
sick until the virus causes liver damage. This can take
10 years or more to happen. Signs may be the same
as acute hepatitis C. There may also be signs of liver
damage and cirrhosis such as:
Small, red, spider-like blood vessels on the skin
Confusion or problems thinking
Loss of interest in sex
Swollen stomach or ankles
A longer than normal amount of time for bleeding to stop
How do you know if you have hepatitis C?
The only way to know if you have hepatitis C is by
a medical exam. There are several blood tests your
health care provider can use to diagnose hepatitis C.
These tests can tell you:
If it is acute or chronic infection
If you have recovered from infection
If you could benefit from vaccination for hepatitis A and B
In some cases, your health care provider may suggest
a liver biopsy. A liver biopsy is a test for liver damage. A
needle is used to remove a tiny piece of liver, which is
then sent for tests.
How is it treated?
If you have chronic hepatitis C infection, your health
care provider will examine you for liver problems and
may prescribe drugs to help control the disease.
Hepatitis C drugs can help to:
Clear the virus from the body
Slow down or prevent liver damage
Lower the chance of getting cirrhosis and liver cancer
Before starting treatment it is important to discuss your
options with your health care provider. Treatment for
hepatitis C may not be for everyone. Some patients
might not need treatment. Other patients might not be
able to be treated due to other medical problems.
What can happen if hepatitis C is not treated?
For every 100 people infected with hepatitis C:
About 15 will clear the virus from their bodies.
About 85 will develop chronic (long-term) infection. Of these 85 people:
66 will get only minor liver damage
17 will develop cirrhosis and may have symptoms of severe liver disease
2 will develop liver cancer
Chronic hepatitis C infection is the leading cause
of liver cancer and cirrhosis in the U.S. Cirrhosis
is scarring of the liver which causes it to not work
properly. Both liver cancer and cirrhosis can be fatal. A
liver transplant may be necessary if chronic hepatitis C
causes the liver to fail.
If you have hepatitis C
See your health care provider regularly.
Tell current and recent sex partners that you have hepatitis C.
Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
Get plenty of rest.
Eat healthy foods.
Drink plenty of fluids
Avoid drinking any alcohol. Alcohol use speeds up
the damage hepatitis C causes in your liver. Drinking
alcohol before starting hepatitis C treatment makes
treatment less likely to work. There are ways to help
you stop drinking alcohol at: What You Can Do.
Check with your health care provider before taking:
Avoid spreading hepatitis C to others by:
Having safer sex and using condoms during all sexual contact.
Not sharing used or unclean needles and sex toys.
Not donating blood, blood products, or organs.
Cleaning all blood spills – even those that have already dried. Use a mixture of bleach and water (one part household bleach to 10 parts water). Even dried blood is a risk to others.
Not sharing personal care items like razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers or earrings.
Not sharing glucose-monitoring equipment.
Asking your sexual partner(s) to be tested for hepatitis C (and perhaps other infections).
If you have hepatitis C, you can prevent liver damage by not drinking alcohol and by getting vaccinated for hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
How can you avoid hepatitis C?
Right now there is no vaccination to protect you against
hepatitis C. However, you can take steps to protect
yourself from becoming infected:
Don't use injectable drugs.
If you use drugs, get vaccinated against hepatitis A and hepatitis B and enter a treatment program.
Never share needles, syringes, water, or "works" for intravenous drug use, to inject steroids, or cosmetic substances.
Handle needles and other sharp objects safely.
Do not use personal items that may have come into contact with an infected person's blood.
Do not get tattoos or body piercings from an unlicensed facility or in an informal setting.
Wear gloves if you have to touch another person's blood. Always clean hands after removing gloves.
Have safer sex. Each time you have sex use a condom.
It is possible to get pregnant if you or your partner
has hepatitis C. If you are a pregnant woman who
already has hepatitis C (or gets hepatitis C during the
pregnancy), the chance of passing the virus to your
baby is 4 out of 100. The risk becomes greater if the
mother has both hepatitis C and HIV. With good
prenatal care, babies born to mothers or fathers with
hepatitis C are usually quite healthy. The chance of
your baby being infected with hepatitis C is the same
whether your baby is born by vaginal delivery or
C-section. Before breastfeeding, talk to your health