How Do People Get Hepatitis C
HCV spreads by direct contact with an infected person’s blood and other body fluids. This can happen through:
- sharing drug needles and intranasal drug devices
- getting a tattoo or body piercing with unsterilized tools
- sexual contact
- passing of the infection from a pregnant woman to her unborn child
Children who have HCV most often acquired it as newborns from their mothers.
Thanks to blood screening and other health care precautions adopted in the early 1990s, the spread of HCV from hemodialysis, blood transfusions, or organ transplants is now rare.
It’s also rare, but possible, for someone to get HCV by sharing household items that might contain an infected person’s blood, such as razors, toothbrushes, or scissors.
How Do You Get Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C spreads when blood or body fluids contaminated with the hepatitis C virus get into your bloodstream through contact with an infected person.
You can be exposed to the virus from:
- Sharing injection drugs and needles
- Having sex, especially if you have HIV, another STD, several partners, or have rough sex
- Being stuck by infected needles
- Birth — a mother can pass it to a child
- Sharing personal care items like toothbrushes, razor blades, and nail clippers
- Getting a tattoo or piercing with unclean equipment
You canât catch hepatitis C through:
- Casual contact
- Have been on long-term kidney dialysis
- Have abnormal liver tests or liver disease
- Have HIV
- Were born to a mother with hepatitis C
Since July 1992, all blood and organ donations in the U.S. are tested for the hepatitis C virus. The CDC says it is now rare that someone getting blood products or an organ would get hepatitis C. That said, The CDC recommends that anyone over the age of 18 get tested for Hepatitis C. If you haven’t been screened, you should consider having it done.
Learn more about the risk factors for hepatitis C.
When To Seek Medical Advice
See your GP if you persistently have any of the later symptoms listed, or if they keep returning. They may recommend having a blood test that can check for hepatitis C.
Read more about diagnosing hepatitis C
None of these symptoms mean you definitely have hepatitis C, but it’s important to get them checked out.
You should also speak to your GP about getting tested if there’s a risk you’re infected, even if you don’t have any symptoms. This particularly includes people who inject drugs or have done so in the past.
Read about the causes of hepatitis C for more information about who’s at risk of having the infection.
Page last reviewed: 27 October 2021 Next review due: 27 October 2024
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What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of Hcv Infection
Hepatitis C can be a “silent but deadly” infection. Most people with HCV have no symptoms. But even without symptoms, they can develop health problems decades later and can still pass the disease to others.
- nausea, vomiting, and lack of appetite
- belly pain
- joint pain
Spread Of Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood contact when blood from a person with hepatitis C enters another persons bloodstream.
The most common way people become infected with hepatitis C in Australia is by sharing injecting equipment such as needles, syringes, spoons and tourniquets. It is possible to be infected with hepatitis C after only one risk event.
Hepatitis C may also be spread through:
- tattooing and body piercing with equipment that has not been properly cleaned, disinfected or sterilised such as backyard tattoos’. Registered parlours with appropriate infection control procedures are not a risk
- needlestick injuries in a healthcare setting
- receiving blood transfusions in Australia prior to 1990 before hepatitis C virus testing of blood donations was introduced
- medical procedures, blood transfusions or blood products and mass immunisation programs provided in a country other than Australia
- pregnancy or childbirth there is a 5% chance of a mother with chronic hepatitis C infection passing on the virus to her baby during pregnancy or childbirth.
Breastfeeding is safe, however if nipples are cracked or bleeding cease breastfeeding until they have healed.
Less likely possible routes of transmission of hepatitis C include:
Hepatitis C cannot be transmitted by:
- sharing food, cups or cutlery
- shaking hands or day-to-day physical contact.
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How Is Hepatitis C Spread
The hepatitis C virus is spread through contact with infected blood and bodily fluids, such as semen and vaginal fluid. You will only be infected if the virus enters your bloodstream.
In Canada, most people are infected by:
- using or sharing drug paraphernalia contaminated with infected blood, including:
If you have hepatitis C, you can pass the virus to your baby during:
- breastfeeding if your nipples are cracked and bleeding, and your baby also has bleeding in or on the mouth
- it can be hard to tell if a baby has bleeding in or on the mouth
- cracked nipples may not be bleeding but may begin to during breastfeeding
You can also be infected if you receive contaminated:
- blood products
Although rare, hepatitis C can also be spread through unprotected sex especially if it involves blood contact, such as:
- contact with:
- open sores, cuts or wounds
- semen or vaginal fluid if blood is present
Unprotected sex means having sex without using a condom or other barrier safely.
Hepatitis C is not spread through:
- breast milk
Questions For Your Doctor
When you visit the doctor, you may want to ask questions to get the information you need to manage your hepatitis C. If you can, have a family member or friend take notes. You might ask:
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Life Expectancy And Prognosis
Can you die from hepatitis? Technically, the complications of chronic hepatitis C are fatal. About 30,000 people in the U.S. die each year from cirrhosis.
How long can you live with untreated hep C? The disease affects everyone differently, so thereâs no rule. But about 70% to 80% of people with will get chronic help C. Within 20 years, about 20% to 30% of those people will get cirrhosis. From there, it depends on what type of cirrhosis you have, your treatment, and if you can get a liver transplant.
Can hepatitis C go away on its own? Yes. From 15% to 20% of people with hep C clear it from their bodies without treatment. Itâs more likely to happen in women and people who have symptoms. But it usually happens between 4 and 18 months after symptoms start.
Additional Tests You Might Need
Once youve been diagnosed with Hepatitis C, your doctor will likely order a number of tests to find out about the health of your liver and decide on a treatment plan thats most appropriate for you.
Hepatitis C genotype
The Hepatitis C genotype refers to a specific strain or type of the Hepatitis C virus. There are six major types of Hepatitis C around the world: genotypes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. In the United States, genotypes 1, 2, and 3 are common:
- Genotype 1: Most Americans with Hepatitis C have this type
- Genotype 2: About 10% of Americans with Hepatitis C have this type
- Genotype 3: About 6% of Americans with Hepatitis C have this type
The genotype of Hepatitis C does not change over time, so you only need to get tested once.
Genotype tests are done before a person starts treatment. Hepatitis C treatment works differently for different genotypes, so knowing your genotype helps your doctor choose the best treatment for you.
Testing for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B
Your doctor may test to see if your body is immune to Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. If these tests show no prior exposure or protection, he or she will recommend that you be vaccinated against these two viruses to eliminate the chance of becoming infected.
Liver function tests or liver enzymes
Liver function tests also include ALP and total bilirubin, among other things.
Tests to measure liver scarring or fibrosis
- Liver Biopsy
- Serum markers
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Acute Vs Chronic Infection
Doctors distinguish between chronic and acute infection with hepatitis viruses. Acute infection is a short-term condition, lasting under six months. Chronic infection is a long-term condition, lasting more than six months.
Hepatitis B infection can be either acute or chronic. Most people who get acute hepatitis B dont end up progressing to chronic hepatitis B. By contrast, acute hepatitis C tends to develop into chronic hepatitis C. Approximately 7585 percent of adults newly infected with hepatitis C develop a chronic infection, according to the CDC . Others clear the infection.
When you get acute hepatitis C you may or may not have symptoms. Most cases of acute hepatitis C are asymptomatic, meaning people dont notice the symptoms. Symptoms are only noticeable in 15 percent of cases of acute hepatitis C.
Who Should Get Tested
You should consider getting tested for hepatitis C if you’re worried you could have been infected or you fall into one of the groups at an increased risk of being infected.
- Hepatitis C often has no symptoms, so you may still be infected if you feel healthy.
- The following groups of people are at an increased risk of hepatitis C:
- ex-drug users and current drug users, particularly users of injected drugs
- people who received blood transfusions before September 1991
- recipients of organ or tissue transplants before 1992
- people who have lived or had medical treatment in an area where hepatitis C is common high risk areas include North Africa, the Middle East and Central and East Asia
- babies and children whose mothers have hepatitis C
- anyone accidentally exposed to the virus, such as health workers
- people who have received a tattoo or piercing where equipment may not have been properly sterilised
- sexual partners of people with hepatitis C
If you continue to engage in high-risk activities, such as injecting drugs frequently, regular testing may be recommended. Your doctor will be able to advise you about this.
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How Dangerous Is Hep C
Hep C, specifically chronic Hep C, can be a serious disease. It can lead to long-term health issues, including liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer, or even death. Hep C is a major cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer.
This makes it the most common reason for liver transplant in the United States. In 2016, CDC reported over 1,800 deaths related to the HCV. Nevertheless, the actual deaths due to Hep C are believed to be far more in number because not all people are tested for the virus.
How Hepatitis C ‘ghosts’ Our Immune System
- Trinity College Dublin
- Scientists have discovered how the highly infectious and sometimes deadly hepatitis C virus ‘ghosts’ our immune system and remains undiagnosed in many people. By targeting a specific protein, scientists hope to restore effective immune responses against HCV, particularly in patients who do not respond to existing therapy.
Scientists from Trinity College Dublin have discovered how the highly infectious and sometimes deadly Hepatitis C virus “ghosts” our immune system and remains undiagnosed in many people. They report their findings today in the international FASEB journal.
HCV’s main route of transmission is via infected blood but over the past 40 years it has accidentally been given to many patients across the world via infected blood products. The virus replicates particularly well in the liver, and the damage it causes makes it a leading cause of liver disease worldwide.
Even though HCV can be deadly, initial infection is rarely accompanied by any obvious clinical symptoms for reasons that have — until now — remained unknown. As a result, it often goes undiagnosed for the first 6-12 months following infection.
HCV suppresses the immune response
The Trinity scientists found that HCV “ghosts” our immune response, by triggering our own SOCS regulators a specific part of the virus is responsible for increasing a specific SOCS molecule — in both liver and immune cells.
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Hepatitis C And Injecting Drugs
If you inject drugs, avoid sharing needles, syringes or other equipment such as tourniquets, spoons, swabs or water.
Where possible, always use sterile needles and syringes. These are available free of charge from needle and syringe programs and some pharmacists. To find out where you can obtain free needles, syringes and other injecting equipment, contact DirectLine
Try to wash your hands before and after injecting. If you cant do this, use hand sanitiser or alcohol swabs from a needle and syringe program service.
Treating Hepatitis C Matters
When you see your doctor and start treatment for a chronic hep C infection, you can prevent these problems, improve them, or keep them from getting worse. New drugs can clear the virus from your body in a few months with fewer side effects than older medicines. If thereâs no virus in your blood 3 months after treatment, youâre considered cured.
Getting rid of the infection protects others, too. Hepatitis C spreads through blood-to-blood contact. You could infect a loved one if you accidentally use their toothbrush or cut yourself and donât clean up the blood properly. People who get hep C treatment greatly lower the odds that they will pass the virus to someone else.
If you arenât sure if you have hepatitis C, talk to your doctor to see if you should get tested. Learn why you should get tested for hepatitis C.
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Treatment And Medication For Hepatitis C
If you have acute hepatitis C, there is no recommended treatment. If your hepatitis C turns into a chronic hepatitis C infection, there are several medications available.
Interferon, peginterferon, and ribavirin used to be the main treatments for hepatitis C. They can have side effects like fatigue, flu-like symptoms, anemia, skin rash, mild anxiety, depression, nausea, and diarrhea.
Now youâre more likely to get one of these medications:
Find out more on treatment options for hepatitis C.
Which Is Worse Chronic Hepatitis B Or C What Do You Think
From HBFs expert Guest Blogger, Dr. Thomas London
If you ask doctors in the United States, or patients with liver disease, or the average person on the street, the answer that you usually get is that Hepatitis C is worse. Hepatitis C has a bad reputation in the media and with the public. We, at the Hepatitis B Foundation, tend to think that hepatitis B is the worse disease, but until now we have not had any basis for that answer. Now we do.
Recently a group of investigators from Johns Hopkins University published a paper with the title Comparative Risk of Liver-Related Mortality from Chronic Hepatitis B Versus Chronic Hepatitis C Virus Infection. The answer from this publication is that hepatitis B is more likely to cause liver related death than hepatitis C. It is worth dwelling on how the authors came to this conclusion: unexpectedly, the AIDS epidemic triggered the studies, which made the conclusion possible.
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Treatments For Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C can be treated with medicines that stop the virus multiplying inside the body. These usually need to be taken for several weeks.
Until recently, most people would have taken 2 main medicines called pegylated interferon and ribavirin .
Tablet-only treatments are now available.
These new hepatitis C medicines have been found to make treatment more effective, are easier to tolerate, and have shorter treatment courses.
They include sofosbuvir and daclatasvir.
Using the latest medications, more than 90% of people with hepatitis C may be cured.
But it’s important to be aware that you will not be immune to the infection and should take steps to reduce your risk of becoming infected again.
Diagnosis Of Hepatitis C
If you are at risk of hepatitis C infection, or think you may have been exposed to hepatitis C in the past, see your doctor for an assessment of your liver health. This will include blood tests and possibly a non-invasive test for liver damage .
There are 2 blood tests used to diagnose hepatitis C. Usually these can be done at the same time but sometimes they will be done separately.
The first test known as a hepatitis C antibody test can tell you whether you have ever been exposed to hepatitis C.
It may take 2 to 3 months from the time of infection until a blood test can detect antibodies to hepatitis C, so there is a window period during which you cannot tell if you are or have been infected. In this time, take precautions to prevent the potential spread of the virus.
The second test is called hepatitis C PCR, which will be done if the antibody test is positive. This determines if the virus is still present in your blood or liver or if you have already cleared the infection.
If you have cleared the virus or had successful treatment to cure it, the PCR test will be negative.
A liver ultrasound or Fibroscan can also be performed to assess if you have any liver damage.
If your doctor is inexperienced in diagnosing hepatitis C you can call the LiverLine on for information, and to find a GP who can help you.
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