Hepatitis C

Reviewed by Ruthann Cunningham, MD., June 13, 2017

What is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that affects the liver. It is transmitted sexually and through exposure to contaminated blood. Intravenous drug users are at high risk. It can become a chronic disease in 70-85% of infected people. The CDC estimates 3.2 million people in the US have chronic hepatitis C. Early detection is important both for the health of the infected person and to stop further transmission.

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Are there symptoms of hepatitis C?

Most people with acute hepatitis C have no symptoms. When hepatitis C symptoms develop, it can feel like the flu. You may feel fatigue, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and loss of appetite. As the infection advances your skin and eyes may turn yellow, something called jaundice. Chronic hepatitis C often has no signs until liver damage occurs, which may take many years.

How do you get hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is spread by contact with an infected person's blood. This can happen through sharing needles, razors or accidental needle sticks. It's possible to contract hepatitis C through sexual activity. Currently, there are no known cases worldwide of hepatitis C spread through mosquitoes.

How do I get tested for hepatitis C?

The test for hepatitis C is a blood test done in 2 parts, an initial test and a confirmatory test. It is simple and quick.

When your hepatitis C test results are ready, we'll put you in touch with a physician on the phone. Depending on the results, he or she will advise next steps and, if necessary, discuss treatment.

Can hepatitis C be treated?

If you have a positive result, there is a chance of what's known as "false-positive". In that case, your doctor may want to run another test to confirm the results. If your second test comes back positive, your doctor will decide the best way to fight the virus. Acute hepatitis C may go away on its own. Chronic hepatitis C may be treated with antiviral medication to stop the virus from getting worse.

What if I don't get treated for hepatitis C?

If you have hepatitis C and don’t get treated it can get worse and you can unknowingly spread it to others. Without symptoms, the only way to know if you've been infected is to get tested. Chronic hepatitis C can lead to liver failure and death if it's not treated. And, unlike Hepatitis B, there is no vaccine to prevent against hepatitis C.

How can I prevent hepatitis C?

As with all STDs, use a condom every time you have sexual activity. Don't share needles, razor blades, or toothbrushes with an infected person. Who is at an increased risk for hepatitis C?

  • Healthcare workers and people who work with blood
  • Men who have sex with men
  • People who have sex with multiple partners
  • People who have an STD
  • IV drug users
  • People who get tattoos or piercings with non-sterile techniques
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