Hepatitis C is a disease
caused by a
virus that infects the
liver. In time, it can lead to 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.
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.
The risk of getting hepatitis C through sexual contact is very small.1 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.
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.
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.