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Hepatitis C Overview




Hepatitis C infection is an inflammation of the liver caused by infection with the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which occurs when blood from an infected person enters the body of a person who is not infected. Hepatitis C is one of six hepatitis viruses. The other types are A, B, D, E, and G. All cause the liver to become inflamed, but hepatitis C is considered to be among the most serious of the viruses, which can lead to liver cancer, liver failure, or cirrhosis (irreversible scarring of the liver). About 80 percent of those who are infected with HCV exhibit no symptoms, and have no idea they are infected for years.

There is no cure for hepatitis C infection, but early diagnosis is important in delaying a number of the infections symptoms. Anyone who has a risk factor for hepatitis C infection should be tested by a health care provider as soon as possible.

Approximately 4 million people in the U.S. are infected with hepatitis C.

Those who may be at risk for hepatitis C infection include those who:

  • Received a blood transfusion prior to July 1992
  • Received blood, blood products, or organs from a donor who has hepatitis C
  • Inject street drugs or share a needle with someone who has hepatitis C
  • Have been on long-term kidney dialysis
  • Have frequent workplace contact with blood (for instance, as a healthcare worker)
  • Have or have had sex with multiple partners
  • Have or have had sex with a person who has hepatitis C
  • Share personal items, such as toothbrushes and razors, with someone who has hepatitis C
  • Were born to hepatitis C infected mother
Persons at risk for hepatitis C infection might also be at risk for infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) or HIV. In many people infected with hepatitis C, no risk factor can be identified. You can ask your health care provider to be tested at any time.

To prevent acquiring hepatitis C infection:

  • Do not shoot drugs. If you shoot drugs, stop and get into a treatment program. If you can't stop, never share needles, and get vaccinated against hepatitis A & B.
  • Do not share personal care items like razors and toothbrushes.
  • If you are a health care worker, always follow routine barrier precautions and safely handle needles, and get vaccinated against hepatitis B.
  • If getting a tattoo or body piercing, you could get infected if the tools have someone else's blood on them or if the artist or piercer does not follow good health practices.
  • HCV can be spread by sex, but this is rare. If you are having sex with more than one steady sex partner, use latex condoms correctly and every time to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. You should also get vaccinated against hepatitis B.