Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver. It can cause serious liver damage if it is not treated.
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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.
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
- 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
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
- Joint pain
- Nausea and vomiting
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.
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
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
- Limit sex partners.
- Do not share personal items that might have blood on them.
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