Hepatitis C

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. The liver is a vital organ that processes nutrients, filters the blood, and fights infections. When the liver is inflamed or damaged, its function can be affected. Heavy alcohol use, toxins, some medications, and certain medical conditions can cause hepatitis. However, hepatitis is often caused by a virus.

Hepatitis C virus

  • About 50% of people with hepatitis C do not know they are infected
  • 3 in 4 people with hepatitis C were born from 1945-1965
  • Hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver transplants and liver cancer
  • There is no vaccine available for hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C can range from a mild illness, lasting a few weeks, to a serious, life-long (chronic) infection. Most people who get infected with the hepatitis C virus develop chronic hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C is spread when blood from a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus – even in microscopic amounts – enters the body of someone who is not infected. The hepatitis C virus can also be transmitted from:

  • Sharing equipment that has been contaminated with blood from an infected person, such as needles and syringes
  • Receiving a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992 (when widespread screening virtually eliminated hepatitis C from the blood supply)
  • Poor infection control has resulted in outbreaks in health care facilities
  • Birth to an infected mother

Many people with hepatitis do not have symptoms and do not know they are infected. If symptoms occur with an acute infection, they can appear anytime from 2 weeks to 6 months after exposure. Symptoms of chronic viral hepatitis can take decades to develop. Symptoms of hepatitis can include: fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-colored stools, joint pain, and jaundice.

Acute: There is not a recommended treatment for acute hepatitis C. People should be considered for treatment if their infection becomes chronic infection.

Chronic: There are several medications available to treat chronic hepatitis C. Current treatments usually involve 8-12 weeks of oral therapy (pills) and cure over 90% of people with few side effects.

CDC recommends hepatitis C testing for:

  • Current or former injection drug users, including those who injected only once many years ago
  • Everyone born from 1945 to 1965
  • Anyone who received clotting factor concentrates made before 1987
  • Recipients of blood transfusions or solid organ transplants before July 1992
  • Long-term hemodialysis patients
  • People with known exposures to hepatitis C virus, such as health care workers or public safety workers after needle sticks involving blood from someone infected with hepatitis C virus and recipients of blood or organs from a donor who tested positive for the hepatitis C virus
  • People with HIV
  • Children born to mothers with hepatitis C