Hepatitis C is a serious viral infection that is spread by contact with blood and contaminated needles. It usually is not spread by sexual contact.
Hepatitis C symptoms can be mild. Most people who have it don’t know it until routine tests show liver damage. Hepatitis C can lead to liver scarring (cirrhosis), liver failure and liver cancer. Twenty percent to 30 percent of people who have hepatitis C will develop cirrhosis within 20 to 30 years.
People at Risk for Hepatitis C Include Those Who:
- Have HIV
- Have ever used injectable illegal drugs
- Had blood transfusions or organ transplants before 1992
- Received clotting-factor concentrates during medical treatment before 1987
- Have had long-term hemodialysis treatment
- Were born to a mother who had hepatitis C
- Work in health care, or who have been exposed to infected skin (accidental needle stick)
- Have had a tattoo or piercing with unsterile equipment
If you have hepatitis C, you may never notice symptoms. When they do happen, symptoms can include:
- Muscle and joint pain
- Appetite loss
- Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
If you have symptoms that you cannot explain or that worry you, see your doctor.
Hepatitis C is diagnosed by a blood test. If you are in any of the risk groups, talk to your doctor about having a blood test for hepatitis C. This can include anyone born between 1945 and 1965.
If you have hepatitis C, your doctor will do blood tests to see how much of the virus is in your body. This helps guide treatment. You may need other tests to see how your liver is working. This can include a biopsy (tissue sample) of your liver.
Our liver specialists (hepatologists) treat hepatitis C and can help you keep your liver as healthy as possible.
You may not need treatment for hepatitis C. Your doctor may suggest ways to help with symptoms such as nausea and low energy, or recommend an antiviral medication. You may need blood tests later to make sure the infection is gone.
If you have hepatitis C, your doctor may want to be sure you’re vaccinated against hepatitis A and B to prevent getting them and further damaging your liver.
If your liver has been seriously damaged, you may need a liver transplant. For hepatitis C, liver transplant is not a cure. You must continue to take antiviral medication to prevent the new liver from becoming infected.
How to Prevent Hepatitis C
If you have hepatitis C, take steps to protect your health and the health of others:
- Avoid drinking alcohol
- Avoid drugs that cause liver damage (your doctor can review your prescription and over-the-counter drugs with you)
- Cover open wounds
- Don’t share toothbrushes or razors
- Don’t donate blood, organs or semen
- Tell health care workers that you have the virus so they can protect themselves from coming into contact with your blood
- Do not use illegal drugs
- Be careful about tattoo and piercing equipment
- Practice safe sex; if you have sex, use protection and ask partners about their sexual health