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Hepatitis C Fact Sheet

What is hepatitis?

“Hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver. The liver is a vital organ that processes nutrients, filters the blood, and fights infections. When the liver is inflamed or damaged, its function can be affected.

Heavy alcohol use, toxins, some medications, and certain medical conditions can cause hepatitis. However, hepatitis is most often caused by a virus. In the United States, the most common types of viral hepatitis are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver that results from the Hepatitis C virus. Acute Hepatitis C refers to the first several months after someone is infected. Acute infection can range in severity from a very mild illness with few or no symptoms to a serious condition requiring hospitalization. For reasons that are not known, about 20% of people are able to clear, or get rid of, the virus without treatment in the first 6 months.

Unfortunately, most people who get infected are not able to clear the Hepatitis C virus and develop a chronic, or lifelong, infection. Over time, chronic Hepatitis C can cause serious health problems including liver disease, liver failure, and even liver cancer.

How is Hepatitis C spread?

Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. Today, most people become infected with Hepatitis C by sharing needles, syringes, or any other equipment to inject drugs. Before widespread screening of the blood supply in 1992, Hepatitis C was also spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. While uncommon, poor infection control has resulted in outbreaks in healthcare settings.

While rare, sexual transmission of Hepatitis C is possible. Having a sexually transmitted disease or HIV, sex with multiple partners, or rough sex appears to increase a person’s risk for Hepatitis C. Hepatitis C can also be spread when getting tattoos and body piercings in unlicensed facilities, informal settings, or with non-sterile instruments. Also, approximately 6% of infants born to infected mothers will get Hepatitis C. Still, some people don’t know how or when they got infected.

Who should get tested for Hepatitis C?

Testing for Hepatitis C is recommended for certain groups, including people who:

  • Were born from 1945 – 1965
  • Received donated blood or organs before 1992
  • Have ever injected drugs, even if it was just once or many years ago
  • Have certain medical conditions, such as chronic liver disease and HIV or AIDS
  • Have abnormal liver tests or liver disease
  • Have been exposed to blood from a person who has Hepatitis C
  • Are on hemodialysis
  • Are born to a mother with Hepatitis C
Can Hepatitis C be treated?

Yes. However, treatment depends on many different factors, so it is important to see a doctor experienced in treating Hepatitis C. New and improved treatments are available that can cure Hepatitis C for many people.

For more information please visit www.cdc.gov