Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus, called HCV. Most often, it spreads when you come in contact with blood from an infected person. Hepatitis C can cause serious problems like liver failure, cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), and liver cancer.
There’s no vaccine for hepatitis C. That’s why screenings from your doctor are important. That way, you'll know if you’re at greater risk for an infection.
Your chances of hepatitis C go up if:
You're a baby boomer. About 75% of the people infected with hepatitis C in the U.S. were born between 1945 and 1965. If you’re in this group, your chance of getting hepatitis C is at least five times greater than people of any other age. There are many theories as to why this is true, but it’s most likely because medical procedures like blood transfusions weren’t as safe back then. The hepatitis C screenings weren't as common, either. So infections happened more often.
Your mother was infected. If your mother had a hepatitis C infection, there’s a chance you have one too. According to the CDC, about 6% of babies born to infected mothers will get hepatitis C. A pregnant woman who has HCV antibodies but no active virus likely won’t spread the virus to her baby. But if a pregnant woman has a large amount of the virus in her body (a doctor might call it a high viral load), there’s a greater chance she’ll pass on the virus to her child.
You’ve had exposure to blood or bodily fluids. Health care workers and anyone else who deals with blood and needles on a regular basis have a higher chance of getting hep C due to the potential for accidents like needle-stick injuries.
You’ve gotten transfusions or transplants. You're at greater risk of hepatitis C if you received an organ transplant or blood transfusion before July 1992. Your chances are also higher if you had clotting factor concentrates made for you before 1997. These days blood supply is widely screened, so the risk of transmission from blood or blood products is very low.
You share certain personal items. Sharing things like razors, nail clippers, and toothbrushes raises the odds that you'll get hepatitis C, since those items might come into contact with infected blood. You can’t get the virus from sharing eating utensils, or by hugging, kissing, or holding hands.
You had a tattoo or piercing in an unclean environment. If the needle used wasn’t sterile or the room wasn’t clean, infected blood can spread from one person to another. If the needle is dirty, the virus can go into the ink, which can then infect the next person who's tattooed. Make sure that you get a tattoo or piercing in a licensed, commercial facility.
You have HIV. Because HIV and hepatitis C can spread in many of the same ways -- including blood products, unsafe drug use, and sex -- many people have both viruses.
You’ve injected drugs. If you’ve used IV drugs, even once, or many years ago, you have an increased risk of the virus. You can contract the virus from sharing a needle with someone who already has it.
You’ve had long-term hemodialysis. When you’ve had your blood filtered by a machine for a long time because your kidneys weren’t working, it’s possible that blood from an infected person could get on the surfaces or machine equipment and then spread to other people.
You’ve had unprotected sex. Because hepatitis C likely spreads through infected blood, some sexual activities may raise your chances of getting it. If you’ve had many sexual partners, rough sex, or you have a history of sexually transmitted disease, your odds of hepatitis C are greater.
You are black. Black Americans have a higher rate of infection of hepatitis C and a higher rate of death from hepatitis C-related issues. But those rates are dropping with better diagnosis and treatments.