Hepatitis Program

Hepatitis C Basics

What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C (formerly called non-A, non-B Hepatitis) is a liver disease caused by a recently identified bloodborne virus.

Who gets Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C occurs most often in people who have received a blood transfusion or who have shared needles.

Get Tested!

  • If you've ever injected street drugs, even once.
  • If you've received a blood transfusion or solid organ transplant before July 1992.
  • If you've received blood clotting factor before 1987.
  • If you've ever been on long-term kidney dialysis.
  • If you've ever been exposed to known Hepatitis C contaminated blood

How is Hepatitis C virus spread?
Like Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C is spread by exposure to blood from an infected person, such as through a blood transfusion or sharing needles. The risk of sexual transmission has not been thoroughly studied but it appears to be small. There is no evidence that the Hepatitis C virus can be transmitted by casual contact, through foods or by coughing or sneezing. Transmission from mother to child appears to be uncommon.

Hepatitis C is NOT spread by...

  • breast feeding
  • sneezing
  • coughing
  • hugging
  • food or water
  • casual contact
  • sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis C?
Some people experience appetite loss, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, vague stomach pain, and jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes).

How soon after infection do symptoms occur?
Symptoms may occur from two weeks to six months after exposure but usually within two months.

When and for how long is a person able to spread Hepatitis C?
Some people carry the virus in their bloodstream and may remain contagious for years. The disease may be followed by complete recovery or it may become chronic and cause symptoms for years.

How is Hepatitis C diagnosed?
Hepatitis C is diagnosed using blood tests for the Hepatitis C virus or antibodies against the virus.

What is the treatment for Hepatitis C?
There are no special medicines or antibiotics that can be used to treat people with the initial onset of Hepatitis C. However, the FDA has approved some antiviral drugs (interferon and ribavirin) for treating some people with chronic Hepatitis C.

Is donated blood tested for the virus?
Since May 1990, blood donation centers throughout the United States have routinely used a blood donor screening test for Hepatitis C. Widespread use of this test has significantly reduced the number of post-transfusion Hepatitis C cases.

What are the possible consequences of Hepatitis C?
Approximately 25 percent of people infected with Hepatitis C virus will become sick with jaundice or other symptoms of Hepatitis. Fifty percent of these individuals may go on to develop chronic liver disease.

Is there a vaccine for Hepatitis C?
At the present time, a vaccine for Hepatitis C is not available.

How can Hepatitis C be prevented?
People who have had Hepatitis C should be aware that their blood and possibly other body fluids are potentially infectious. Therefore, infected persons should avoid sharing toothbrushes, razors, needles, etc. In addition, infected people must not donate blood and should inform their dental or medical care providers so that proper precautions can be followed. The risk of sexual transmission of Hepatitis C virus has not been thoroughly investigated but appears to be low.

Hepatitis C Prevention Guide: How can I keep from getting it?

  • Don't inject drugs.  If you do, stop and get into a treatment program.  If you can't stop, never reuse or share syringes, water, or drug "works".

  • If you are a health care worker, always handle needles and other sharp objects safely, wear gloves whenever handling blood, and follow routine barrier precautions.

  • If you are considering getting a tattoo or piercing, make sure the tools and ink used are sterile and that the artist or piercer follows good health practices, such as washing hands and using disposable gloves.

If I have Hepatitis C, how do I keep from infecting others?

  • Do not donate blood, plasma, body organs or tissue, or semen.
  • Do not share personal items that might have your blood on them, such as razors, toothbrushes, dental appliances, and nail-grooming items.
  • Cover your cuts and open sores.
  • If you inject drugs, stop and get into a treatment program.
  • Get vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B.