What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a disease
caused by a
virus that infects the
liver. In time, it can lead to permanent liver damage
as well as
cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure.
Many people don't know that they have hepatitis C until they already
have some liver damage. This can take many years. Some people who get hepatitis
C have it for a short time and then get better. This is called acute hepatitis
C. But most people who are infected with the virus go on to develop long-term,
or chronic, hepatitis C.
Although hepatitis C can be very serious,
most people can manage the disease and lead active, full lives.
What causes hepatitis C infection?
Hepatitis C is
caused by the hepatitis C virus. It is spread by contact with an infected
You can get hepatitis C if:
- You share needles and other equipment used to
inject illegal drugs. This is the most common way to get hepatitis C in the
- You had a blood transfusion or organ transplant
before 1992. As of 1992 in the United States, all donated blood and organs are
screened for hepatitis C.
- You get a shot with a needle that has infected blood on it.
This happens in some developing countries where they use needles more than once
when giving shots.
- You get a tattoo or a piercing with a needle
that has infected blood on it. This can happen if equipment isn't cleaned
properly after it is used.
In rare cases, a mother with hepatitis C spreads the
virus to her baby at birth, or a health care worker is accidentally exposed to
blood that is infected with hepatitis C.
Experts aren't sure if
you can get hepatitis C through sexual contact. If there is a risk of getting
the virus through sexual contact, it is very small. The risk is
higher if you have many sex
cannot get hepatitis C from casual contact such as
hugging, kissing, sneezing, coughing, or sharing food or drink.
What are the symptoms?
Most people have no
symptoms when they are first infected with the hepatitis C virus. If you do
develop symptoms, they may include:
- Feeling very tired.
- Belly pain.
- Itchy skin.
- Dark urine.
- Yellowish eyes and skin (jaundice). Jaundice usually appears only after other
symptoms have started to go away.
Most people go on to develop chronic hepatitis C but
still don't have symptoms. This makes it common for people to have hepatitis C
for 15 years or longer before it is diagnosed.
How is hepatitis C diagnosed?
Many people find out by accident that they have the virus. They find out when
their blood is tested before a blood donation or as part of a routine checkup. Often people with hepatitis C have high levels of liver
enzymes in their blood.