Frequently Asked Questions About Hepatitis C 

Q: What is hepatitis C?

Answer: Hepatitis C is a virus that can cause permanent liver damage, and sometimes liver cancer. About 80 percent of the people who are infected with hepatitis C are unable to clear the virus from their bodies, becoming hepatitis C carriers. As long as the virus is in the body, it can be passed to other people. It can take as long as 20 years for symptoms of liver disease to appear. A special blood test for hepatitis C is the only way to tell if you have it.

Q: What are the symptoms of hepatitis C?

Answer: Most people infected with the hepatitis C virus do not feel sick at all. Some people have a “flu-like” illness about 1-3 months after becoming infected. Other symptoms include tiredness, nausea and vomiting, stomachache, and, less often, yellow eyes and skin, dark urine, and light-colored stools.

Q: How do you prevent getting hepatitis C?

Answer:

  • Do not share needles or other injecting equipment.
  • Do not share personal items, such as razors or toothbrushes.
  • If you get a tattoo or body piercing, be sure the instruments are sterilized.
  • Wear disposable gloves if you give first aid, or handle blood or body fluids.

Q: How is the hepatitis C virus (HCV) spread from one person to another?

Answer: It is spread through contact with the blood of an infected person. The most common way people get hepatitis C is by sharing injection drug equipment, including needles, cookers, water, and cotton. There is a small risk of transmission during sex. Some people contracted Hepatitis C through blood transfusions before 1992. Tattoos and body piercings done with contaminated needles can spread hepatitis C. If a pregnant woman has hepatitis
C, there is a small chance her baby may be born with it. Sharing razors, nail clippers, and toothbrushes may also spread the virus. The hepatitis C virus is not spread by sweat, tears, or urine. You cannot get it through casual contact, food, water, sneezing, coughing, or breathing air.

Q: Can persons who have hepatitis C attend school or go to work?

Answer: Yes. Hepatitis is spread by direct contact with infected blood. Therefore, persons with hepatitis C can continue to go to school, work, and perform many other daily activities.

Q: Is there a hepatitis C vaccine?

Answer: There is no vaccine to prevent infection with hepatitis C. A vaccination against hepatitis A or hepatitis B does not protect you against hepatitis C. Instead, there are treatments to control hepatitis C.

Q: How long after you are exposed to the hepatitis C virus should you be tested?

Answer: If you are exposed to HCV, have a baseline blood test done immediately. Second, get retested after 6 months. It can take up to 6 months before antibodies appear.

Q: Who should get tested for hepatitis C?

Answer: We recommend testing for the following:

  • Persons who have used injection drugs not prescribed by a doctor, even once
  • Persons who received blood before 1992
  • Persons who have received an organ transplant before 1992
  • Persons who have received long-term hemodialysis
  • Persons who were treated for clotting problems with a blood product made before 1987 (hemophiliacs)
  • Persons who have signs and symptoms of liver disease (e.g., abnormal liver enzyme tests)
  • Healthcare workers after accidental exposure to blood (e.g., needle sticks or splash to the eye)
  • Children born to hepatitis C virus-positive women

Q: Can HCV be spread during medical and dental procedures done in the United States?

Answer: Medical and dental procedures done in the United States do not pose a risk for the spread of HCV. The use of required sterilization procedures or disposable instruments eliminates the risk of hepatitis C.

Q: Is there a vaccine for hepatitis C?

Answer: There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.

Q: What is the treatment for hepatitis C?

Answer: Antiviral drugs, such as interferon used alone or in combination with ribavirin, are approved for treatment. Some infections respond better to treatment than others. Overall, treatment works well in 30-50 percent of those who complete antiviral treatment.

Q: If I don't have insurance, where can I go for testing, counseling, and treatment?

Answer: Please call Arkansas Department of Health HIV/STD/HEPC Division at 1-800-462-0599 for information.

If you don't have insurance, check with your local health department, local support groups, or other resources as well.

Q: How do I prevent further damage to my liver?

Answer: There are several things that you can do to prevent further damage to your liver. We recommend the following:

  • Do not drink alcohol.
  • See your health care provider regularly.
  • Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
  • Do not take any new medicines or use over-the-counter or herbal medicines without talking to your health care provider first.
  • If you work with solvents or other chemicals that may effect your liver, wear protective equipment.

Your health care provider will provide you with additional advice.

Q: How can persons infected with hepatitis C prevent spreading it to others?

Answer: Persons with hepatitis C should not donate blood, organs, tissue, or semen. They should not share personal items that may have blood on them, such as razors, toothbrushes, dental appliances, or nail-grooming equipment. They should also cover their cuts and skin sores with a bandage.

Q: Can living in the same household spread hepatitis C?

Answer: It does not occur very often. If HCV is spread within a household, it is spread by direct contact with infected blood. Examples would be sharing razors or toothbrushes.

Q: How do you clean up HCV-infected blood?

Answer: You may want to keep a first-aid kit in your home and in your car. Always use rubber gloves when cleaning up blood so that you do not come into direct contact with it. The area should be cleaned using a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water or other good disinfectant. Scrub the area thoroughly.

Q: Should I be tested if my spouse has hepatitis C? What protection should I use if my spouse has the virus?

Answer: Sexual transmission studies are still ongoing. Because hepatitis C is transmitted through blood, it is not easily transmitted through sex. There are still some questions as to whether or not the virus is transmitted through semen.

If you and your spouse are having anal sex, you may increase your chances of transmitting the virus if bleeding occurs.

For your best protection, we suggest maintaining a monogamous relationship with your spouse. For added protection, you may want to consider using latex condoms.

Q: I am not a drug user, but I am worried that I may have contracted hepatitis C through sexual transmission with a partner who used to be an intravenous (IV) drug user 15 years ago. Could I have gotten the hepatitis C virus from him?

Answer: The risk for sexual transmission is low. If your partner has HCV and was a former IV drug user, screening would be appropriate to rule out infection.

Q: My ex-spouse has hepatitis C. Is it safe to send my child to stay with him?

Answer: Hepatitis C is spread by direct contact with infected blood. It is not spread unless blood is present. Your child is not at risk having casual contact with your ex-spouse. Hepatitis C cannot be spread by hugging, kissing, handshakes, sneezing, coughing, or sharing household utensils (spoons, forks,
bowls, glasses).

Q: Can you get hepatitis C from tattoos? I heard even if you use clean needles that the ink stays infected. Is that true?

Answer: Studies are still ongoing regarding the risk for transmission from tattoos and the presence of the virus in the ink. If a business follows universal safety procedures, such as using sterile needles and ink, then there is little risk of transmission.

Q: Could I have gotten hepatitis C from a dirty toilet seat?

Answer: Hepatitis C is spread by direct contact with infected blood. The virus cannot be passed through toilet seats.

Q: What are the chances of a person becoming chronically infected or dying from hepatitis C?

Answer: Some people with hepatitis C infection develop a long-term infection, chronic liver disease, cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), or liver cancer. Many people live decades with the virus and die of other causes unrelated to liver disease.
Of every 100 persons infected with hepatitis C about:

  • 85 persons may develop long-term infection
  • 70 persons may develop chronic liver disease
  • 15 persons may develop cirrhosis over 20-30 years or longer
  • 5 persons may die from liver cancer or cirrhosis