Understanding Hepatitis C (HCV)

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. There are many kinds of hepatitis. Some can be spread. Others can not. Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is spread by blood exposure. HCV can lead to lifelong liver disease in about 80% of people infected. Complications include chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer.

Collage of bloodmobile, hand holding syringe, and hand accepting razor from another hand. Circle and slash is on top of collage.

Symptoms of hepatitis C

Most people notice no problems after being infected with HCV, or have very vague symptoms of fatigue, loss of appetitie, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, or joint pain. If a person has been infected for many years, they may have severe liver damage, leading to liver failure. Symptoms of liver failure include:

  • Flu-like problems (fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and sore muscles and joints)

  • Tenderness in the upper right abdomen

  • Jaundice (yellowing skin)

  • Swelling in the abdomen

  • Itching

  • Dark urine

  • Internal bleeding

  • Mental confusion

  • Coma

Prevent the spread

No vaccine can prevent the spread of hepatitis C.

If you have been diagnosed with hepatitis C, do :

  • Cover all skin breaks and sores yourself. If you need help, the person treating you should wear latex gloves.

  • Use condoms during sex, especially with a new partner.

If you have been diagnosed with hepatitis C, don’t:

  • Donate blood, plasma, body organs, other body tissue, or sperm.

  • Share needles or syringes

  • Share razors, toothbrushes, manicure tools, or other personal items.

How HCV spreads

HCV spreads through exposure to an infected person’s blood. This is most likely to occur if:

  • You used an infected needle (IV drug needles, tattoos, acupuncture needles, and body piercing)

  • You had a needlestick injury in the hospital

  • You shared personal care items such as razors

  • You had sex without a condom with an infected person (a less common cause)

  • You had a blood transfusion several years ago (blood is now screened for HCV) or organ transplant prior to blood and organ testing

Many people do not know how they were exposed to HCV.

There are many new treatments for HCV, many of which are oral therapies.

It is now standard to test all people for HCV who were born between 1945 and 1965 who have had blood exposure, and who have abnormal liver tests.