“Hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver. Toxins, certain drugs, some diseases, heavy alcohol use, and bacterial and viral infections can all cause hepatitis.
Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness.
Hepatitis C is spread when blood from an infected person enters the body through a break in the skin or mucous membranes (e.g., eyes, sores in the mouth). Today, most people become infected with the hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. Before 1992, when widespread screening of the blood supply began in the United States, hepatitis C was also commonly spread through
blood transfusions and organ transplants. Hepatitis C is not spread by sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing, sneezing, or other casual contact. Hepatitis C virus is not found in urine or feces and is not spread through food or water.
Some people are at increased risk for hepatitis C, including:
People who received body piercing or tattoos done with non-sterile instruments
People with known exposures to hepatitis C, such as:
Healthcare workers injured by needle sticks
Recipients of blood or organs from a donor who tested positive for the hepatitis C virus
Less common risks include:
A person is contagious during the time that the hepatitis C virus is detectable in their blood. People can infect others for several weeks before their symptoms begin, and until their infection resolves. People who have chronic hepatitis C are always contagious. A person does not have to have symptoms
to spread the disease.
On average, symptoms appear six to seven weeks after exposure, but they can appear any time between two weeks and six months after exposure. However, most people with acute hepatitis C do not develop symptoms.
Acute hepatitis C symptoms:
Most people with acute hepatitis C do not have any symptoms. Some people, however, can have mild to severe symptoms soon after being infected, including:
Symptoms usually last a few weeks, but some people can be ill for as long as six months.
Chronic hepatitis C symptoms:
Some people with chronic hepatitis C have ongoing symptoms such as fatigue or joint pain, but most individuals remain symptom free for as long as 20 or 30 years. About 15% to 25% of people with chronic hepatitis C develop serious liver conditions, such as cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or liver cancer. Even as the liver becomes diseased, some people still do not have symptoms, although certain tests for
liver function may show some abnormalities.
Infection with hepatitis C can lead to immunity – if you recover from acute infection and the infection does not progress to chronic infection. Approximately 75–85% of people acutely infected will go on to develop a chronic infection.
Once you recover from hepatitis C, you must get tested by your provider to see if you have cleared the virus. Being free from symptoms does not mean that your immune system fought off the infection.
Chronic hepatitis C is a serious disease that can result in longterm health problems, including liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer, or even death. Approximately 8,000–10,000 people die every year from hepatitis C-related liver disease in the United States.
There are many ways that you can reduce the risk of others
getting hepatitis C if you are infected:
No. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. Hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccination is recommended for anyone with hepatitis C.
There are several treatment options for people with chronic hepatitis C infections. There are a number of medications for hepatitis C that clear the virus at a very high rate with more than 90% of patients who complete treatment being cured. Current standard of care medications for hepatitis C include:
Working with providers on the incidence, distribution, and possible control of diseases, illnesses and other factors relating to health.