Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by an infection with the hepatitis C virus. The liver becomes inflamed and swollen and stops working as it should. Hepatitis C is a serious disease because the liver is needed to remove toxins that build up in the blood. Hepatitis C can destroy the liver and cause cirrhosis and death. It is the main cause of liver transplants in the world.
After being infected with the hepatitis C virus, 75%-85% of people will develop a chronic, long-term, infection. Once chronic hepatitis C infection develops, 80% of people will develop chronic liver disease.
Each year, about 22,000 Americans become infected with the hepatitis C virus. About 3.2 million Americans have a chronic infection. The hepatitis C virus is one of the most common causes of long-lasting liver disease in the U.S.
There are several ways to get infected with hepatitis C, including:
Sharing needles for injection drug use
Accidentally getting pricked by a needle contaminated by infected blood; this sometimes happens to medical workers.
Being born to a mother with hepatitis C infection
Getting a blood transfusion from someone with hepatitis C infection. Before 1992, blood could not be tested for hepatitis C. Since 1992, all blood donated in the U.S. gets tested for the virus. If you had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before June 1992, ask your health care provider about being tested for hepatitis C.