Hepatitis C is a liver infection. It is caused by the hepatitis C virus. The virus is spread through infected blood and body fluids.
Hepatitis C is often spread when a person shares infected needles used to inject illegal drugs. It also can be spread if a person uses a needle that has infected blood on it. This could happen when you get a tattoo or piercing. Or it can happen when you get a shot in some developing countries where they use needles more than once to give shots.
In rare cases, a mother with hepatitis C can spread the virus to her baby at birth. Or a health care worker may accidentally be exposed to blood that is infected with hepatitis C.
There is a very small risk of getting the virus through sexual contact. The risk is higher if your sex partner also has HIV or another sexually transmitted infection, or if you have many sex partners.
You can't get hepatitis C from casual contact. This is contact such as hugging, kissing, sneezing, coughing, and sharing food or drinks.
Some people who get hepatitis C have it for a short time and then get better. This is called acute hepatitis C.
But most people get long-term, or chronic, hepatitis C. This can lead to liver damage as well as cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure.
Experts recommend that certain groups of people get tested for the virus. These include people who have signs of liver disease or have ever shared needles while using illegal drugs. Ask your doctor if testing is right for you.
Most people who get hepatitis C do not have symptoms at first. Symptoms may include:
There is no vaccine to prevent the disease. Anyone who has hepatitis C can spread the virus to someone else. You can take steps to make infection less likely.
To avoid spreading hepatitis C if you have it:
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
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Current as of: March 3, 2017
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
& E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & A. Evan Eyler, MD, MPH - Family Medicine, Psychiatry
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