Hepatitis C

Overview

Definition

Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver. It can cause serious liver damage if it is not treated.

Hepatitis
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Causes

Hepatitis C is caused by a virus. The virus can be spread:

  • Through contact with the blood of an infected person
  • Through IV drug use
  • To a baby during birth by a mother who has the infection

The hepatitis C virus is not spread through food or water.

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:

  • Injecting illegal drugs, especially with shared needles
  • Receiving a blood transfusion before 1992—this risk is low in the United States (current testing prevents this today)
  • Receiving blood clotting products before 1987 (current testing prevents this today)
  • Receiving an HCV-infected organ transplant
  • Long-term kidney dialysis treatment
  • Sharing toothbrushes, razors, nail clippers, or other personal hygiene items that have HCV-infected blood on them
  • Tattooing
  • Body piercing
  • Having sex with partners who have hepatitis C

Things that may raise the risk of this problem in healthcare workers are:

  • Being accidentally stuck by an HCV-infected needle
  • Frequent contact with HCV-infected people

SymptomsandDiagnosis

Symptoms

Some people may not have symptoms. Others may have:

  • No energy
  • Lack of hunger
  • Yellowing of the eyes and skin
  • Darker colored urine
  • Loose stools and light or chalky colored stools
  • Belly pain
  • Itching
  • Rash
  • Joint pain
  • Nausea and vomiting

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. This may be enough to suspect the diagnosis.

Blood tests will be done to confirm hepatitis by looking for:

  • Signs of the virus
  • Antibodies—signs that the immune system is fighting an infection
  • Changes in liver function

The diagnosis may may be made as part of a routine screening test during a regular exam.

Treatments

Treatment

In some people, the infection may go away on its own. If the infection does not pass, the goal of treatment is to:

  • Prevent further liver damage by not drinking alcohol, not smoking, and avoiding certain medicines like acetaminophen
  • Cure the infection with antiviral medicine

Prevention

To lower the risk of this infection:

  • Do not inject illegal drugs. Those who do should not share needles.
  • Do not have sex with partners who have the hepatitis C infection.
  • Practice safe sex. Use latex condoms.
  • Limit sex partners.
  • Do not share personal items that might have blood on them.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.

a (HCV; Hep C)

RESOURCES

American Liver Foundation https://liverfoundation.org 

Hepatitis Foundation International https://hepatitisfoundation.org 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Liver Foundation http://www.liver.ca 

Health Canada http://www.canada.ca 

References

2015 Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015/default.htm. Accessed December 30, 2020.

Acute hepatitis C infection. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/acute-hepatitis-c-infection. Accessed December 30, 2020.

American Society for the Study of Liver Disease/Infectious Diseases Society of America (AASLD/IDSA). HCV Guidance: Recommendations for Testing, Managing, and Treating Hepatitis C. AASLD/IDSA 2018 May 24.

Chronic hepatitis C infection. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/chronic-hepatitis-c-infection. Accessed December 30, 2020.

Viral hepatitis—hepatitis C information. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/index.htm. Accessed December 30, 2020.