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Understanding Hepatitis C

When you or someone you know is living with hepatitis C, or even if you just think you may have it, it’s important to be armed with as much knowledge as you can. Learning about it will give you a better understanding of the condition and how to manage or help someone else manage it. Here’s some basic information to help get you started.

Hep C—sometimes called HCV—is a virus that leads to inflammation of the liver. The virus causes the immune system to attack healthy liver cells.

     
 

The hep C virus is spread when your blood comes into contact with infected blood. This can happen in many different ways.

A person is considered to have acute hep C for the first six months of infection and chronic hep C six months after infection
  • Tattoos or body piercing done with contaminated needles or by a nonprofessional
  • Blood transfusions and organ transplants (infections caused this way are much less common in the United States since 1992)
  • Mother-to-child transfer at birth
  • Hemodialysis
  • Sexual contact with someone who has hep C (in rare cases)
  • Sharing a straw to snort drugs
  • Sharing needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject drugs
 
     

FACT

Hep C Can Survive Outside the Body.

Did you know this fact?


The hep C virus can live on surfaces for several weeks.

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No one living with hep C is alone. The disease affects about 2.7 million people in the United States. For every 100 people with the virus, 75 to 85 will develop chronic hep C. Of the people with chronic hep C:

  • 60% to 70% will develop chronic liver disease
  • 5% to 20% will eventually develop cirrhosis
  • 1% to 5% with cirrhosis will develop liver cancer each year

Symptoms like jaundice, poor appetite, fatigue, or belly pain may appear in the acute stage or the chronic stage of the disease. However, many people may not experience any symptoms of hep C over the 2 or more decades of the disease’s progression.

A person is considered to have acute hep C for the first six months of infection and chronic hep C six months after infection

No matter the stage of the hep C infection, symptoms may not appear even though liver damage could be happening. In fact, for many, there are usually no symptoms with chronic hep C infection until liver disease, like cirrhosis or liver cancer, becomes advanced. That’s why it’s important to get the condition diagnosed as soon as possible. Talk with your doctor or contact your local Department of Health to find testing centers in your area.

MYTH

You can tell if someone has Hep C by looking at them.

Without testing, it’s not possible to know if someone has the disease.

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Did you know this fact?

Hepatitis C is one of several hepatitis viruses. Others include hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Hep A usually spreads through contaminated food or water, or through close contact with someone who's infected. Hep B spreads through blood or body fluids and can pass from person to person more easily than hep C. All 3 viruses cause inflammation of the liver, but hep C is the most common in the United States and is the only one of the 3 without a vaccine.

Hepatitis  A and B have vaccines, hepatitis C does not have a vaccine A - check B - check C - X


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Could You Have Hepatitis C?

Every year, 3 to 4 million people worldwide are newly infected with the hepatitis C virus. In about 75% to 85% of cases, the infection becomes chronic, continuing to exist in the body for more than 6 months.

3+ million

new infections worldwide every year

MYTH

There’s no way to reduce the risk of getting Hep C.

There are ways to lessen your risk of getting the hep C virus, including by not sharing needles, not injecting drugs, and more.

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People with a high risk for having hep C who may want to ask their doctors about getting tested include:

  • Anyone born between 1945 and 1965
  • People exposed to unsanitary piercing or tattoo equipment
  • Children born to mothers with hep C
  • People who have had long-term hemodialysis
  • Healthcare and emergency workers who have been exposed to infected blood or have had accidental needlestick injury
  • People with hemophilia who were treated with clotting factors before 1987
  • People who received blood transfusions or organ transplants before 1992
  • People with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)
  • People who were in jail or prison
  • Anyone with unexplained liver problems or inflammation, including abnormal liver tests
  • Anyone with current or past injection or intranasal drug use

Other people at risk for hep C include:

  • Anyone who has had sexual contact with a person who has hep C
  • People who have shared personal care items (like razors, toothbrushes, or nail clippers) that may have come into contact with the blood of someone with hep C

MYTH

You can get Hep C from sharing eating utensils.

Hep C is passed from person to person by contact with infected blood. Hep C isn’t spread by sharing utensils, food, or drinks.

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Contrary to what some people might believe, hep C is not spread by sharing eating utensils, or hugging or kissing someone who has it.


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If You Haven’t Been Tested for Hepatitis C

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Preventive Services Task Force recommend one-time testing for the hepatitis C virus (HCV) for adults born between 1945 and 1965. There are other risk factors, including unsanitary piercings and past injection drug use. If any of these or other risk factors apply to you, talk to your doctor about getting tested.

Many people don’t know they have hep C because the symptoms may be mild or may not appear at all. But hep C often begins damaging the liver before symptoms appear. That's why getting tested is so important.

There are a few different kinds of blood tests that can help you find out if you have hep C. Your doctor might suggest taking an initial test to show if you have hep C antibodies. This test can be done in your first office visit. If you test positive, it means that you’ve been exposed to the hep C virus. In this case, your doctor will need to run a second test. The second test will tell you whether or not your immune system has cleared the hep C virus on its own.

Your doctor might suggest taking an initial test to show if you have hep C antibodies. This test can be done in your first office visit. If you test positive, it often means you have been exposed to the hep C virus. Your doctor will then recommend a second test to determine if your immune system has cleared the hep C virus on its own

If you think you’re at risk for hep C, talk to your doctor about a test that can detect hep C virus antibodies in your first office visit.


Where to Get Tested for Hepatitis C

Your doctor may be able to run an antibody test to determine if you need further testing for hepatitis C. Testing for hep C often requires special kinds of tests that aren’t done during a routine physical. You can have your blood drawn for these tests at your doctor’s office or at a testing facility. Talk with your doctor or contact your local department of health to find testing centers in your area.


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