Seven Facts About Hepatitis C

Seven Facts About Hepatitis C

Seven Facts About Hepatitis C

You’ve probably heard about hepatitis C in the news. It’s the most common bloodborne infection in the United States. Because it can be easily spread, it's importance to understand the virus and ways you can protect yourself. 

What Is Hepatitis C?

This infection is caused by a virus that damages the liver. People can contract an acute or chronic form of the disease. In 15 to 25 of every 100 people who test positive for acute hepatitis C, the infection clears up without any problem.

In contrast, 75 to 85 of every 100 people who contract hepatitis C have the chronic, lifelong form of the virus. Within that same group of 100, 60 to 70 individuals will suffer long-term liver disease. Others will develop cirrhosis of the liver. 

The latest findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal nearly 2.7 million people in the U.S. are living with chronic hepatitis C and it is claiming more lives.

How Do You Contract Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is spread leaving site icon through blood-to-blood contact between humans. It is most often spread by sharing drug needles. It can also be passed through sexual contact, even though the risk appears to be low. You won’t contract hepatitis C while getting tattoos or body piercings with clean equipment. If the equipment is not sterile, though, you can contract the virus.

The disease is rarely spread from mother to child during pregnancy. It is not passed through breast milk, water, food or casual contact like shaking hands, hugging or kissing. It is also not spread through bug bites.

How Does Hepatitis C Affect the Body?

Someone infected for many years may have liver damage and the symptoms that go with it. Chronic hepatitis C can cause liver failure, cirrhosis, cancer and even death.

What Are the Symptoms of Hepatitis Cleaving site icon

Symptoms usually show up six to seven weeks after exposure to the disease. Twenty out of every 100 people never experience symptoms, but can still spread the disease.

Symptoms of acute hepatitis C include fever, loss of hunger, nausea and vomiting, stomach and joint pain, jaundice, clay-colored bowel movements and dark urine.

Who Needs to Be Tested for Hepatitis C?

You should be tested for the virus if you:

  • Were born between 1945 and 1965
  • Are or have ever been an injection drug user
  • Were treated for blood clots before 1987
  • Received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992
  • Undergo long-term hemodialysis treatment
  • Test positive for abnormal liver function or liver disease
  • Work in health care
  • Have been exposed to a needlestick
  • Suffer from HIV
How Is Hepatitis C Treated?

There are a number of medicines available to treat Hepatitis C. If you’ve been diagnosed with the disease, talk with your doctor about treatment options. Check with your health insurer to find out all you can about doctors and care facilities in your plan’s network. You can also learn about the most affordable drugs in your health insurance plan to treat your hepatitis C.

How Can Hepatitis C Be Prevented?

Be careful when handling sharp needles and razors. Use condoms during sex. If you give or receive blood, that blood should be tested for hepatitis C. At risk individuals should be monitored for liver disease.  

Sources: A Guide to Common Bloodborne Diseases, leaving site icon IDCare, 2022; Hepatitis C, The Disease, Epidemiology, Treatment, Eradication Part 3: United States Epidemiology, leaving site icon Forbes, 2023; Hepatitis C Questions and Answers for the Public, leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020

Originally published 4/25/2016; Revised 2021, 2023