Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. Toxins, certain drugs, some diseases, heavy alcohol use, and bacterial and viral infections can all cause hepatitis. Hepatitis is also the name of a family of viral infections that affect the liver; the most common types in the United States are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. Hepatitis C, also known as bloodborne non-A, non-B hepatitis, is a serious public health problem in the United States, where 150,000 to 170,000 persons get hepatitis C each year; many become severely ill and require hospitalization, and some die of liver failure.
Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis C virus. It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. Today, most people become infected with the hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. Before 1992, when widespread screening of the blood supply began in the United States, hepatitis C was also commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants.
Hepatitis C can be either “acute” or “chronic.” Acute hepatitis C virus infection is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the hepatitis C virus. For most people, acute infection leads to chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis C is a serious disease than can result in long-term health problems, or even death.
Like other bloodborne diseases, hepatitis C can be prevented with proper precautions. In addition, a blood test is available for hepatitis C screening. Read this pamphlet to learn what puts you at risk for hepatitis C, how you can protect yourself from this disease, how you can be tested, and what to do if you have hepatitis C.
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. The best way to prevent hepatitis C is by avoiding behaviors that can spread the disease, especially injection drug use.
What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is found in the blood of persons who have this disease. The infection is spread by behaviors involving contact with the blood of an infected person and by blood transfusions.
How great is the risk for hepatitis C?
About 40% of all persons who get hepatitis C do not know how they were infected with HCV. If you do not engage in any of the behaviors listed below, your risk for hepatitis C is probably low. However, if you are involved in any of these behaviors, your risk for hepatitis C could be very high.
You are at risk for hepatitis C if you:
- have ever injected drugs
- have a job that exposes you to human blood
- are a hemodialysis patient
- have ever received a blood transfusion
You may be at risk if you:
- have multiple sex partners
- live with a person who has hepatitis C
What are the symptoms of hepatitis C?
If you have hepatitis C, you may have:
- yellowing of the skin and eyes
- loss of appetite
- nausea and vomiting
- extreme fatigue
- stomach pain
Some persons who are infected with HCV have no symptoms and can infect others without knowing it.
How serious is hepatitis C?
In the United States, approximately 600 persons each year die of liver failure shortly after getting hepatitis C. About half of all persons who get hepatitis C never fully recover and can carry the virus for the rest of their lives. These persons have chronic (or lifelong) hepatitis C, and some may eventually develop cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver and liver failure.
How is HCV spread?
HCV is spread primarily by exposure to human blood. A person may get hepatitis C by sharing needles to inject drugs or through exposure to human blood in the workplace. Although the risk of getting hepatitis C from a blood transfusion still exists, this risk is very low because donated blood has been screened for HCV since May 1990.
Hepatitis C has been transmitted between sex partners and among household members; however, the degree of this risk is unknown.
There is no evidence that HCV is spread by sneezing, coughing, hugging, or other casual contact.
HCV cannot be spread by food or water.
A person who has had other types of viral hepatitis, such as hepatitis A or hepatitis B, can still get hepatitis C.
How can you find out if you have hepatitis C?
A blood test is available for hepatitis C screening. The test shows if a person has been infected with HCV; however, it does not distinguish between recent and old infection. In addition, the test does not distinguish between persons who are infectious and those who have completely recovered and cannot pass the infection on to anyone else.
What if your test for hepatitis C is positive?
If you have a positive test result and have risk factors for hepatitis C or have signs of liver disease, you probably have been infected with HCV. However, if you have no signs of liver disease and do not engage in high risk behaviors, your hepatitis C positive test result may be a "false positive." Contact your doctor to determine whether your hepatitis C test result is accurate and whether additional tests are needed.
What if you have hepatitis C?
If you have hepatitis C:
- Do not donate blood, plasma, body organs, other tissue, or sperm.
- Do not share toothbrushes, razors, or other items that could become contaminated with blood.
- Cover open sores or other breaks in your skin.
HCV may be spread by sexual contact with an infected person. To reduce the chances of spreading HCV by sexual contact, follow these "safer-sex" guidelines:
- Use latex condoms to prevent the exchange of body fluids.
- Have only one sex partner
- If you have multiple sex partners, reduce the number of your sex partners to prevent others from getting infected
- Inform your sex partners about your illness
Hepatitis C Testing
A new multi-area study suggests that only half of Americans with hepatitis C receive complete testing for the virus.
- Approximately three million Americans are living with hepatitis C and up to 75 percent don’t know they are infected – placing them at serious risk for liver disease, cancer, and death.
- Only half of Americans identified as ever having had hepatitis C received follow-up testing showing that they were still infected, according to an analysis of data from a multi-area study published today. This data suggests that even among individuals who receive an initial antibody test, as many as half do not know for sure if they still carry the virus.
- The vast majority of persons living with hepatitis C are baby boomers (individuals born from 1945 through 1965). In fact, the snapshot of diagnosed hepatitis C cases and deaths provided by this analysis underscores the severe impact among this population.
- CDC is issuing updated guidance to reinforce current recommendations for hepatitis C testing and to ensure people infected with hepatitis C are properly tested and identified. Testing all baby boomers properly is critical to stem the increasing toll of death and disease from hepatitis C in this nation.
CDC recommends that everyone in the U.S. born from 1945 through 1965 be tested for hepatitis C in order to increase the proportion of those who know they are infected and linked to care. CDC also recommends that other populations at increased risk for hepatitis C get tested.
Click here to go to the Hep C FAQs.
|2014 Hepatitis C Epi Profile|
|Hepatitis C Fact Sheet|
|Testing Recommendations for Hepatitis C Virus Infection|
|Why Baby Boomers Should Get Tested for Hepatitis C|
|Hepatitis C Prevention Program||4815 W. Markham St., Slot 33
Little Rock, AR 72205