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Hepatitis C

(HCV; Hep C)

Definition

Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver. It can cause serious liver damage if it is not treated.

Causes

Hepatitis C is caused by a virus. The virus can be spread:

  • Through contact with the blood of an infected person
  • Through IV drug use
  • To a baby during birth by a mother who has the infection

The hepatitis C virus is not spread through food or water.

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:

  • Injecting illegal drugs, especially with shared needles
  • Receiving a blood transfusion before 1992—this risk is low in the United States (current testing prevents this today)
  • Receiving blood clotting products before 1987 (current testing prevents this today)
  • Receiving an HCV-infected organ transplant
  • Long-term kidney dialysis treatment
  • Sharing toothbrushes, razors, nail clippers, or other personal hygiene items that have HCV-infected blood on them
  • Tattooing
  • Body piercing
  • Having sex with partners who have hepatitis C

Things that may raise the risk of this problem in healthcare workers are:

  • Being accidentally stuck by an HCV-infected needle
  • Frequent contact with HCV-infected people

Symptoms

Some people may not have symptoms. Others may have:

  • No energy
  • Lack of hunger
  • Yellowing of the eyes and skin
  • Darker colored urine
  • Loose stools and light or chalky colored stools
  • Belly pain
  • Itching
  • Rash
  • Joint pain
  • Nausea and vomiting

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. This may be enough to suspect the diagnosis.

Blood tests will be done to confirm hepatitis by looking for:

  • Signs of the virus
  • Antibodies—signs that the immune system is fighting an infection
  • Changes in liver function

The diagnosis may may be made as part of a routine screening test during a regular exam.

Treatment

In some people, the infection may go away on its own. If the infection does not pass, the goal of treatment is to:

  • Prevent further liver damage by not drinking alcohol, not smoking, and avoiding certain medicines like acetaminophen
  • Cure the infection with antiviral medicine

Prevention

To lower the risk of this infection:

  • Do not inject illegal drugs. Those who do should not share needles.
  • Do not have sex with partners who have the hepatitis C infection.
  • Practice safe sex. Use latex condoms.
  • Limit sex partners.
  • Do not share personal items that might have blood on them.
RESOURCES:

American Liver Foundation
https://liverfoundation.org

Hepatitis Foundation International
https://hepatitisfoundation.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Liver Foundation
http://www.liver.ca

Health Canada
http://www.canada.ca

REFERENCES:

Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015/default.htm. Accessed January 29, 2021.

Acute hepatitis C infection. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/acute-hepatitis-c-infection. Accessed December 30, 2020.

American Society for the Study of Liver Disease/Infectious Diseases Society of America (AASLD/IDSA). HCV Guidance: Recommendations for Testing, Managing, and Treating Hepatitis C. AASLD/IDSA 2018 May 24.

Chronic hepatitis C infection. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/chronic-hepatitis-c-infection. Accessed December 30, 2020.

Viral hepatitis—hepatitis C information. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/index.htm. Accessed December 30, 2020.

Last reviewed December 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD  Last Updated: 12/30/2020