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Hepatitis C

What is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is an infection caused by the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV). It can infect both men and women. The virus infects the liver and is spread through semen, vaginal fluids, saliva, blood, and urine.

How is hepatitis C spread?

Hepatitis C is spread by direct contact with blood and other bodily fluids containing blood. It is usually spread non-sexually through:

  • Sharing needles or other injecting material with infected blood
  • Sharing tattoo, body piercing, or acupuncture needles
  • Accidental needle sticks that has been used by a person with hepatitis C
  • Sharing items that may have blood on them (toothbrushes, dental floss, razors, nail files)

While it is not usually spread through sexual contact, it is possible to spread hepatitis C through:

  • Performing oral-anal sex
  • Vaginal sex (both partners)
  • Anal sex (both partners)

It is more likely to spread through sexual contact in the case of trauma (e.g. rape or rough sex) or when at least one partner has another STD.

Hepatitis C can also be passed from mother to child during pregnancy.

How can I prevent getting hepatitis C?

  • Abstain from (avoid) sexual activity
  • If you have vaginal or anal sex, use a latex male condom or female condom
  • If you have oral sex, use a condom or a latex or plastic barrier
  • Avoid direct contact with bodily fluids (blood or any fluid containing blood)
  • Don't share objects such as needle, razors, or toothbrushes if they are used by a person who might be infected

If I have hepatitis C, how can I prevent giving it to someone else?

  • Abstain from (avoid) sexual activity
  • If you have vaginal or anal sex, use latex male condoms or female condoms
  • If you have oral sex, use condoms or a latex or plastic barrier
  • Don't share your needles, razors, or toothbrushes if there's a chance they might be infected
  • Do not donate blood, body organs, tissue, or semen
  • Cover cuts or sores to prevent spreading infectious blood

Can I still infect others with hepatitis C if I don't have symptoms?

Yes. You can infect others even if you don't have symptoms.

What are the stages of hepatitis C?

There are two stages of a hepatitis B infection, an acute infection and a chronic infection.

Acute infection: When people first get hepatitis C, it is called an acute infection. Most people who get acute hepatitis C clear the virus on their own, meaning that the body gets rid of it without treatment. Some people who have acute hepatitis C do not clear the virus and end up with a chronic hepatitis C infection.

Chronic infection: If the virus is not cleared from the body after the acute infection a chronic infection will develop. Chronic hepatitis C can cause liver damage, scarring of the liver, and death.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis C?

Symptoms of acute infection differ from symptoms of chronic infection.

Acute symptoms:

  • Jaundice (a yellowing of the eyes and skin)
  • Fatigue (feeling tired)
  • Nausea and loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine

Chronic symptoms:

  • Jaundice (a yellowing of the eyes and skin)
  • Fatigue (feeling tired)
  • Nausea and loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Swollen stomach or ankles
  • Itching
  • Dark urine
  • Fluid retention
  • Abnormal liver enzyme levels (tests are done by a doctor or other healthcare professional)
  • Muscle weakness
  • Scarring of the liver

What is the treatment for hepatitis C?

Some people with chronic hepatitis C are treated with antiviral medications, such as peginterferon or ribavirin.

Even if a doctor or other healthcare professional says you don't need treatment, people with either acute or chronic hepatitis C should have regular blood tests to see how their liver is functioning.

What will happen if I have hepatitis C, but I don't get treated?

There is no treatment for acute hepatitis C infections. Some people who get acute hepatitis C can clear the virus from their body. More than half of people with an acute infection do not clear the virus and end up having chronic hepatitis C.

Untreated chronic hepatitis C infection can cause:

  • liver disease
  • cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
  • liver cancer
  • death

How can I get tested for hepatitis C?

You can get tested for hepatitis C at a doctor’s office or at an STD clinic, such as Druid or Eastern. There are two blood tests that can detect a hepatitis C infection.

Antibody test: An antibody test will be done first. It tests for the material your body makes in response to a hepatitis C infection. It takes awhile for your body to start making antibodies, so you won't test positive the day after you were infected.

PCR test: When an antibody test is positive, a PCR test is done to test for the actual virus in your blood. If your body has cleared (gotten rid of) the virus, you might test positive on the antibody test but negative for the PCR test.