What Is Hepatitis C?

This infection of the liver is caused by the hepatitis C virus. About 3.5 million people in the U.S. have the disease. But it causes few symptoms, so most of them don't know.

There are many forms of the hepatitis C virus. The most common in the U.S. is type 1. None is more serious than any other, but they respond differently to treatment.

What Are the Symptoms?

Many people with Hepatitis have no symptoms. But you could notice these:

How Do You Get It?

The virus spreads through the blood or body fluids of an infected person.

You can catch it from:

  • Sharing drugs and needles
  • Having sex, especially if you have an STD, an HIV infection, several partners, or have rough sex
  • Being stuck by infected needles
  • Birth -- a mother can pass it to a child

Hepatitis C isn’t spread through food, water, or by casual contact.

Who Gets It?

The CDC recommends you get tested for the disease if you:

  • Received blood from a donor who had the disease.
  • Have ever injected drugs.
  • Had a blood transfusion or an organ transplant before July 1992.
  • Received a blood product used to treat clotting problems before 1987.
  • Were born between 1945 and 1965.
  • Have been on long-term kidney dialysis.
  • Have HIV.
  • Were born to a mother with hepatitis C.

How Is It Diagnosed?

You can get a blood test to see if you have the hepatitis C virus.

Are There Any Long-Term Effects?

Yes. About 75% to 85% of people who have it develop a long-term infection called chronic hepatitis C. It can lead to conditions like liver cancer and cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver. This is one of the top reasons people get liver transplants.

How Is It Treated?

Hepatitis C treatments have changed a lot in recent years. In January 2016, the FDA gave approval to a once-daily pill combination of elbasvir and grazoprevir called Zepatier. It has been shown to have the ability to cure the disease in almost 100% of those treated. It follows the success of another once-daily treatment called Harvoni that cures the disease in most people in 8-12 weeks. Harvoni combines two drugs: sofosbuvir (Sovaldi) and ledipasvir. In clinical trials, the most common side effects in both drugs were fatigue and headache.


Other fairly

 recent drugs are ombitasvir-paritaprevir-dasabuvir-ritonavir (Viekira Pak), ombitasvir-paritaprevir-ritonavir (Technivie) and daclastasvir (Daklinza) which do not require interferon and cure more people in less time.  Ombitasvir-paritaprevir-dasabuvir-ritonavir and ombitasvir-paritaprevir-ritonavir carry an FDA warning of severe liver injury if given to someone with underlying severe liver disease.  All of these medicines are quite expensive.

Instead, your doctor could recommend a combination of boceprevir (Victrelis), simeprevir (Olysio), sofosbuvir (Sovaldi), or ), or telaprevir (Incivek) with interferon (which you take by injection), and ribavirin (which comes as a liquid, tablet, or capsule).

Interferon and ribavirin used to be the main treatments for hepatitis C. They can have side effects like fatigue, flu-like symptoms, anemia, skin rash, mild anxiety, depression,nausea, and diarrhea.

Your treatment will depend on many things including what type of hepatitis C virus you have.  In the U.S., the most common type is genotype 1, followed by genotypes 2 and 3.  Genotypes 4,5, and 6 are very rare in the U.S. Your doctor will help you figure out what's right for you, based on your medical needs and insurance coverage.

What Are the Side Effects?

The most common effects of hep C drugs are:

Can You Prevent Hepatitis C Infection?

There’s no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. To avoiding getting the virus:

  • Use a latex condom every time you have sex.
  • Don't share personal items like razors.
  • Be careful if you get a tattoo, body piercing or manicure. The equipment may have someone else's blood on it.
  • Don't donate blood or tissue if you’re infected.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on May 17, 2016



News release, FDA.

The Cleveland Clinic Department of Gastroenterology.


The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: "Hepatitis C Treatment Side Effects Management Chart."

UptoDate: "Patient Information: "Hepatitis C (Beyond the Basics)."

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