Hepatitis C is a disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is found in the blood of persons who have this disease. HCV infection can lead to severe illness, liver damage, and in some cases, death. CDC Fact Sheet On Hepatitis C.
Who is at Risk for Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a serious public health problem that affects people of all ages in the United States and around the world. HCV is spread by contact with the blood of an infected person. About 1.6% of Americans have been infected with HCV. Most of these individuals are chronically infected but may not be aware of their HCV infection because they are not clinically ill.
If you engage in certain behaviors, your risk for hepatitis C may be much higher. You may be at risk for hepatitis C if you:
- Inject drugs, even one time.
- Received clotting factors before 1987.
- Are a hemodialysis patient.
- Received blood transfusions and/or solid organs before 1992.
- Have undiagnosed liver problems.
- Infants born to HCV infected mothers.
- Work in healthcare/public safety and had a known HCV exposure.
- Have multiple sex partners.
- Have sex with a HCV infected steady partner.
How is Hepatitis C Virus Spread?
HCV is spread by contact with the blood of a HCV infected person. Most of these individuals are chronically infected but may not be aware of their HCV infection because they are not clinically ill. HCV may be spread by:
- Injecting drug use, even one time.
- During birth from HCV infected mother to child.
- Contact with blood of a HCV infected person.
- Sharing items such as razors, toothbrushes, or other personal care items exposed to blood.
- Using unsterilized needles or other instruments in ear or body piercing, tattooing, or acupuncture.
- Unprotected sex.
Transmission of HCV by breastfeeding may be possible, but has not been documented, according to current guidelines. Maternal HCV infection is not a contraindication to breastfeeding. Mothers infected with HCV, who desire to breastfeed, should consult with their health care providers.
Hepatitis C virus is not spread by: sneezing, hugging, coughing, sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses, food or water or casual contact.
What are the Symptoms of Hepatitis C?
Most people who get Hepatitis C don’t know they are infected, because they don’t look or feel sick at all. You may have Hepatitis C (and be spreading the virus) and not know it. If people do have signs or symptoms, they may have any or all of the following:
- Sudden fatigue
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Dark urine
- Jaundice (Yellow skin or eyes)
How is Hepatitis C Diagnosed?
The only way to know if you are infected with Hepatitis C, are recovering, or are a chronic carrier is by having a blood test done at your physician's office or by a health care provider.
Persons with a history that may include a risk for HCV transmission should inform their health care provider and consider being tested.
Serologic testing of pregnant women for HCV infection is not routinely recommended. However, those whose history suggests an increased risk for HCV infection should be tested. Children born to HCV positive mothers should be tested for HCV infection. Approximately 5% of babies born to previously identified HCV positive women will acquire the infection from the transmission of the virus at birth.
What is the Treatment for Hepatitis C?
There are licensed drugs for the treatment of certain persons with chronic Hepatitis C. However, treatment is not always effective. Infections caused by certain types of HCV respond better to these treatments than others. Many people with chronic illness will still develop complications from hepatitis C, such as cirrhosis or cancer of the liver. This is why prevention is so important.
Persons diagnosed with Hepatitis C should:
- See their physician regularly for follow-up care.
Avoid alcohol, or any other substances which can cause liver damage.
- Tell your doctor about all medicines that you are taking (even over the counter & herbal medicines.)
- Get vaccinated against Hepatitis A, if not immune.
- Protect others from exposure to HCV infected blood and other body fluids with the practice of good hand washing, and do not share personal care items that might have blood on them (e.g. razors, toothbrushes).
- Exposed sexual partners should be tested for anti-HCV. Use latex condoms with continued sexual intercourse for protection of a partner against infected semen or vaginal secretions.
- Do not donate blood, organs, or tissue.
- Never share needles, syringes, or "works."
How can Hepatitis C be Prevented?
If infected with Hepatitis C
- Do not donate your blood, body organs, other tissue or sperm.
- Cover your cuts.
- Do not share your toothbrushes, razors, or other personal care items that are exposed to blood with others.
- Use latex condoms with continued sexual intercourse for protection of a partner against infected semen or vaginal secretions.
For more information about Hepatitis C virus, contact your Health Care Provider, Local Health Department, or The Kentucky Department for Public Health at (502) 564-3261.
Links to Other Websites about Hepatitis C: