Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver. It is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV).
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HCV is carried in the blood of people infected with the virus. It is most often spread through contact with infected blood, such as:
Injecting illicit drugs with shared needles Receiving HCV-infected blood transfusions (before 1992) or blood clotting products (before 1987) Receiving an HCV-infected organ transplant
Receiving long-term kidney
treatment (machine can be tainted with HCV-infected blood)
Sharing toothbrushes, razors, nail clippers, or other personal hygiene items that have HCV-infected blood on them Being accidentally stuck by an HCV-infected needle—a concern for healthcare workers Frequent contact with HCV-infected people—a concern for healthcare workers Receiving a tattoo, body piercing, or acupuncture with unsterilized or improperly sterilized equipment
Hepatitis C can also spread through:
An HCV-infected mother to her baby at the time of birth Sexual contact with someone infected with HCV Sharing a straw or inhalation tube when inhaling drugs with someone infected by HCV Receiving a blood transfusion
HCV cannot spread through:
The air Unbroken skin Casual social contact Breastfeeding
Factors that increase your chance of this infection:
Receiving a blood transfusion before 1992 Receiving blood clotting products before 1987 Long-term kidney dialysis treatment Tattooing Body piercing Injecting illicit drugs, especially with shared needles Having sex with partners who have hepatitis C or other sexually transmitted diseases
Eighty percent of people with hepatitis C have no symptoms. Over time, the disease can cause serious liver damage.
Symptoms may include:
Fatigue Loss of appetite Jaundice
(yellowing of the eyes and skin)
Darker colored urine Light or chalky colored stools Loose, light-colored stools Abdominal pain Aches and pains Itching Hives Joint pain Cigarette smokers may suddenly dislike the taste of cigarettes Nausea Vomiting
Chronic hepatitis C infection may cause some of the above symptoms, as well as:
Weakness Severe fatigue Loss of appetite
Serious complications of hepatitis C infection include:
chronic infection that will lead to
(scarring) and progressive liver failure
Increased risk of
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You will also discuss your risk factors.
Tests may include:
Blood tests—to look for hepatitis C antibodies or genetic material from the virus (antibodies are proteins that your body has made to fight the hepatitis C virus) Liver function studies— to initially determine and follow how well your liver is functioning Ultrasound
of the liver— to assess liver damage
—removal of a sample of liver tissue to be examined
Hepatitis C is usually treated with combined therapy, consisting of :
These medications can cause difficult side effects. They also have limited success rates.
In unsuccessful cases, chronic hepatitis C can cause cirrhosis (scarring) and serious liver damage. A liver transplant may be needed.
To prevent becoming infected with hepatitis C:
Do not inject illicit drugs. Shared needles have highest risk. Seek help to
stop using drugs. Do not have sex with partners who have STDs. Practice safe sex (using latex condoms) or abstain from sex. Limit your number of sexual partners. Avoid sharing personal hygiene products, such as toothbrushes. Avoid handling items that may be contaminated by HCV-infected blood. Donate your own blood before elective surgery to be used if you need a blood transfusion.
To prevent spreading hepatitis C to others if you are infected:
Tell your dentist and physician before receiving check-ups or treatment. Get both a hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccination. Do not donate blood or organs for transplant.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
The Merck Manual of Medical Information
. Simon and Schuster, Inc.; 2000.
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse website. Available at:
Last reviewed February 2009 by
Igor Puzanov, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a
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