Articles On Hepatitis C
If you’ve just been diagnosed with hepatitis C, you may wonder how you got it and worry about passing on the virus to a loved one. If you’ve had the disease for a long time without knowing it, you could dwell on every little incident in the past where you might have accidentally exposed a family member to the disease.
It’s important to remember that hepatitis C isn’t easy to catch. If you take a few precautions, it’s almost impossible to pass on the disease to someone else.
How Does Hepatitis C Spread
Hepatitis C is spread only through exposure to an infected person’s blood.
High-risk activities include:
- Sharing drug use equipment. Anything involved with injecting street drugs, from syringes, to needles, to tourniquets, can have small amounts of blood on it that can transmit hepatitis C. Pipes and straws to smoke or snort drugs can have blood on them from cracked lips or nosebleeds. Get into a treatment program if you can. At the very least, don’t share needles or equipment with anyone else.
- Sharing tattoo or piercing tools. Nonsterile items and ink can spread contaminated blood.
- Blood transfusions in countries that donât screen blood for hepatitis C.
- Nonsterile medical equipment. Tools that arenât cleaned properly between use can spread the virus.
- Blood or cutting rituals. Sharing the tools or exchanging blood can transmit hepatitis C.
Medium-risk activities include:
What Are The Treatments For Hepatitis C
Treatment for hepatitis C is with antiviral medicines. They can cure the disease in most cases.
If you have acute hepatitis C, your health care provider may wait to see if your infection becomes chronic before starting treatment.
If your hepatitis C causes cirrhosis, you should see a doctor who specializes in liver diseases. Treatments for health problems related to cirrhosis include medicines, surgery, and other medical procedures. If your hepatitis C leads to liver failure or liver cancer, you may need a liver transplant.
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How Do You Test For Hepatitis C
A simple blood test carried out by a healthcare professional will show whether you have the virus. You may also be given an extra test to see if your liver is damaged.
If youve got hepatitis C you should be tested for other STIs. It’s important that you tell your recent sexual partner/s so they can also get tested and treated. Many people who have hepatitis C do not notice anything wrong, and by telling them you can help to stop the virus being passed on. It can also stop you from getting the infection again.
What Are The Chances Of Getting Hepatitis C From Sex
Hepatitis C can spread through sexual intercourse, but it’s rare. And it’s extremely rare among monogamous couples. In fact, the CDC considers the risk of sexual transmission between monogamous couples so low that it doesn’t even recommend using condoms. Also, there’s no evidence that hepatitis C is spread by oral sex. But you should avoid sharing razors, toothbrushes, and nail clippers, and sex during menstruation.
If you have HIV or if you have multiple partners, you should take precautions. Using condoms will protect you and your partners.
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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
Pathogenesis Of Hepatitis C Infection
Once inside the host, the HCV is transported in the blood to the liver, where it infects liver cells, although other types of cell, including blood cells, may also be infected. The incubation period for acute HCV infection is usually around 70 days, but can range from 2 to 26 weeks. The acute phase of HCV infection is often without symptoms, or mild. Diagnosis of infection is by detection of antibodies or virus RNA and/or antigen in serum. If the infection proceeds to a chronic phase, progression of liver damage is usually slow, and the most common complaint is fatigue. Liver enzyme abnormalities may fluctuate or persist, and the degree of liver damage is variable. The Department of Health estimates that between 60 to 80% of patients with acute HCV infection go on to develop chronic infection with a variable degree of hepatitis, with the risk of cirrhosis and, in a smaller number, primary liver cancer several decades later.
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Hiv And Hepatitis C Coinfection
HCV infection is common among people with HIV who also inject drugs. Nearly 75% of people living with HIV who report a history of injection drug use are co-infected with HCV. All people who are diagnosed with HIV are recommended to be tested for HCV at least once. People living with HIV are at greater risk for complications and death from HCV infection. Fortunately, direct acting antivirals that are used to treat HCV work equally well in people with and without HIV infection. For more information about HIV and HCV coinfection, visit the HIV.govs pages about hepatitis C and HIV coinfection.
What Are The Different Types Of Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C can be acute or chronic. How long you experience symptoms will depend on the type you have.
Acute hepatitis C involves more short-term symptoms that typically last 6 months or less but acute hepatitis often leads to chronic hepatitis. When hepatitis C lasts longer than 6 months, its considered chronic.
Without treatment, you may have chronic hepatitis your whole life, since your body often cant get rid of the virus easily. Some people do get better without treatment, although treatment can go a long way toward improving the outlook.
Hepatitis C wont necessarily become chronic.
As a matter of fact, for anywhere from 15 to 45 percent of people with acute hepatitis C, the virus will clear up without treatment. In other words, if you dont have any symptoms, hepatitis C could improve on its own before you ever know you have it.
However, if your body cant get rid of the hepatitis C virus, the infection wont go away. Instead, it will become chronic, or long-term.
Experts arent sure why some people develop the chronic form of the disease and others dont. But more than half of all people with the hepatitis C virus will eventually develop the chronic form, according to the
Since hepatitis C symptoms can resemble those of other health conditions, your symptoms alone if you have any may not make it clear that you have hepatitis C.
A doctor or other healthcare professional may recommend getting tested if you:
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Sharing Toothbrushes Scissors And Razors
There’s a potential risk that hepatitis C may be passed on through sharing items such as toothbrushes, razors and scissors, as they can become contaminated with infected blood.
Equipment used by hairdressers, such as scissors and clippers, can pose a risk if it has been contaminated with infected blood and not sterilised or cleaned between customers. However, most salons operate to high standards, so this risk is low.
How Are Hepatitis C And Hiv Connected
People living with HIV are at higher risk for hepatitis C. Of the 1.2 million people living with HIV in the U.S., about 1 in 4 also have hepatitis C.
Having both HIV and hepatitis C means increased risk for liver disease, liver failure and liver-related death from hepatitis C. Because hepatitis is often serious in people living with HIV and may lead to liver damage more quickly, the CDC recommends people living with, or at risk for HIV, also get tested for hepatitis C.
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Further Reading On The Relationships Between Detectable Hcv Antibody Generation And The Progression Of Disease:
- Rehermann, B & Nascimbeni, M. 2005. Immunology of hepatitis B virus and hepatitis C virus infection. Nature Reviews Immunology. 5 215-219.
- British Association for Sexual Health and HIV: United Kingdom national guideline on the management of the viral hepatitides A, B & C 2008.
- Information from The Advisory Group
Should I Be Screened For Hepatitis C
Doctors usually recommend one-time screening of all adults ages 18 to 79 for hepatitis C. Screening is testing for a disease in people who have no symptoms. Doctors use blood tests to screen for hepatitis C. Many people who have hepatitis C dont have symptoms and dont know they have hepatitis C. Screening tests can help doctors diagnose and treat hepatitis C before it causes serious health problems.
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Keep Personal Items Personal
Any tools or implements that may have a bit of blood on them from infected people are potential sources of hepatitis B or C transmission. Toothbrushes, nail clippers, razors, needles, and washcloths may all contain trace amounts of blood that can transmit infection. Keep personal items such as these to yourself and never use personal items that belong to others.
How Can You Prevent The Spread Of Hepatitis C
Now that you know how you get hepatitis C, you can take steps to protect yourself from the virus. For instance:
- Avoid sharing needles or other paraphernalia related to intravenous drugs.
- Wear gloves if youre a health care worker or otherwise exposed to needles or potentially infected blood.
- Use barrier methodsaka condomsoutside of sexually monogamous relationships.
- Dont share toothbrushes or other dental equipment, nail clippers, or shaving tools.
- If youre getting a tattoo or piercing, make sure the artist or piercer uses sterile ink and needles.
If you have the hepatitis C virus, you can prevent passing it along to others by following those same steps, in addition to:
- Covering any open sores or wounds.
- Telling all your health and dental care providers you have the virus.
- Avoiding donating blood.
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Causes And Risk Factors
HCV causes hepatitis C. People contract the virus through blood-to-blood contact with contaminated blood. For transmission to occur, blood containing HCV must enter the body of a person without HCV.
A speck of blood, invisible to the naked eye, can carry hundreds of hepatitis C virus particles, and the virus is not easy to kill.
The report the following risk factors for developing hepatitis C:
- using or having used injectable drugs, which is currently the most common route in the U.S.
- receiving transfusions or organ transplants before 1992, which is before blood screening became available
- having exposure to a needle stick, which is most common in people who work in healthcare
- being born to a mother who has hepatitis C
The CDC offer advice on cleaning syringes if it is not possible to use clean and sterile ones. Although bleach can kill the HCV in syringes, it may not have the same effect on other equipment. Boiling, burning and using alcohol, peroxide, or other common cleaning fluids to wash equipment can reduce the amount of HCV but might not stop a person from contracting the infection.
It is extremely dangerous to inject bleach, disinfectant, or other cleaning products, so people should make sure they rinse the syringe thoroughly. A person should only ever use bleach to clean equipment if new, sterile syringes and equipment are not available.
People who are at risk due to these factors can have screening to rule out HCV.
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Why Getting Tested Is Important
A blood test is one of the only ways to confirm a diagnosis of hepatitis C. Additionally, hepatitis C often has no visible symptoms for many years.
Because of this, its important to be tested if you believe youve been exposed to the virus. Getting a timely diagnosis can help ensure you receive treatment before permanent liver damage occurs.
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How Can I Protect Myself From Hepatitis C Infection
If you dont have hepatitis C, you can help protect yourself from hepatitis C infection by
- not sharing drug needles or other drug materials
- wearing gloves if you have to touch another persons blood or open sores
- making sure your tattoo artist or body piercer uses sterile tools and unopened ink
- not sharing personal items such toothbrushes, razors, or nail clippers
Hepatitis C can spread from person to person during sex, but the chances are low. People who have multiple sex partners, have HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases, or who engage in rough or anal sex have a higher chance of getting hepatitis C. Talk with your doctor about your risk of getting hepatitis C through sex and about safe sex practices, such as using a latex or polyurethane condom to help prevent the spread of hepatitis C.
If you had hepatitis C in the past and your body fought off the infection or medicines cured the infection, you can get hepatitis C again. Follow the steps above, and talk with your doctor about how to protect yourself from another hepatitis C infection.
If you think you may have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus, see your doctor as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent liver damage.
Types Of Hepatitis C Infection
There are six major identified hepatitis C virus genotypes, that is, specific genetic sequencing of the virus. In the United States, genotypes 1, 2 and 3 are most common, with genotype 1 accounting for the majority of cases.
Your child’s genotype is important because certain genotypes respond better to treatment than others and the treatment regimen is different depending on the genotype. Your child’s doctor will test to see which genotype your child has before starting therapy for your child’s infection.
In addition to the genotypes of hepatitis C, there are two common forms of hepatitis C infection: acute and chronic.
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When Should You See A Doctor Or Other Healthcare Professional
Since so many people dont experience any symptoms, healthcare professionals recommend getting screened for hepatitis C at least once in your adult life. They may recommend more frequent screenings if you have a higher risk of contracting the virus.
Hepatitis C doesnt always become severe, but the chronic form can increase your risk for liver damage, liver cancer, and liver failure.
If you have any symptoms that suggest hepatitis C, especially if theres a chance youve been exposed, connect with a doctor or another healthcare professional as soon as possible to discuss your options for testing and treatment.
With a prompt diagnosis, you can get treatment earlier, which may help prevent damage to your liver.
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.
Some groups of people are at an increased risk of hepatitis C, including:
- ex-drug users and current drug users, particularly users of injected drugs
- people who received blood transfusions before September 1991 or blood products before 1986 in the UK
- UK 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 Africa, the Middle East and central 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, family members and close contacts 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 Do Doctors Treat The Complications Of Hepatitis C
If hepatitis C leads to cirrhosis, you should see a doctor who specializes in liver diseases. Doctors can treat the health problems related to cirrhosis with medicines, surgery, and other medical procedures. If you have cirrhosis, you have an increased chance of liver cancer. Your doctor may order an ultrasound test to check for liver cancer.
If hepatitis C leads to liver failure or liver cancer, you may need a liver transplant.
What Is Chronic Hepatitis C
Doctors refer to hepatitis C infections as either acute or chronic:
- An acute HCV infection is a short-term illness that clears within 6 months of when a person is exposed to the virus.
- A person who still has HCV after 6 months is said to have a chronic hepatitis C infection. This is a long-term illness, meaning the virus stays in the body and can cause lifelong illness. An estimated 3.2 million people in the U.S. have chronic HCV.
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Can Hepatitis C Be Prevented
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. But you can help protect yourself from hepatitis C infection by:
- Not sharing drug needles or other drug materials
- Wearing gloves if you have to touch another person’s blood or open sores
- Making sure your tattoo artist or body piercer uses sterile tools and unopened ink
- Not sharing personal items such toothbrushes, razors, or nail clippers
- Using a latex condom during sex. If your or your partner is allergic to latex, you can use polyurethane condoms.
NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases