Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver by the hepatitis C virus. It causes the liver to swell and stop functioning normally.
How could I get hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is spread by contact with an infected person's blood. You could get hepatitis C by:
- Sharing drug needles
- Getting pricked with a needle that has infected blood on it (hospital workers can get hepatitis C this way)
- Having sex with an infected person, especially if you or your partner has other sexually transmitted diseases
- Being born to a mother with hepatitis C
In rare cases, you could get hepatitis C by:
- Getting a tattoo or body piercing with unsterilized, dirty tools
You can NOT get hepatitis C by:
- Shaking hands with an infected person
- Hugging an infected person
- Kissing an infected person
- Sitting next to an infected person
Could I get hepatitis C from a blood transfusion?
If you had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992, it is possible that you contracted hepatitis C.
Before 1992, doctors could not check blood for hepatitis C, and some people received infected blood. If you had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992, ask a doctor to test you for hepatitis C.
What are the symptoms?
Many people with hepatitis C don't have symptoms.
However, some people with hepatitis C feel like they have the flu.
So, you might:
- Feel tired
- Feel sick to your stomach
- Have a fever
- Not want to eat
- Have stomach pain
- Have diarrhea
Some people have:
- Dark yellow urine
- Light-colored stools
- Yellowish eyes and skin
If you have symptoms or think you might have hepatitis C, go to a doctor.
What are the tests for hepatitis C?
There are a variety of blood tests that check the blood for the presence of hepatitis C. Other blood tests, such as bilirubin levels and liver enzymes, may be ordered to monitor changes to the liver.
The doctor may also perform a liver biopsy that removes a tiny piece of your liver through a needle. The doctor checks the piece of liver for signs of hepatitis C and liver damage.
How is hepatitis C treated?
Hepatitis C is treated with a drug called peginterferon, usually in combination with the drug ribavirin.
You may need surgery if you have hepatitis C for many years. Over time, hepatitis C can cause your liver to stop working. If that happens, you will need a new liver. The surgery is called a liver transplant. It involves taking out the old, damaged liver and putting in a new, healthy one from a donor.
How can I protect myself?
You can protect yourself and others from hepatitis C.
- Don't share drug needles with anyone.
- Wear gloves if you have to touch anyone's blood.
- If you have several sex partners, use a condom during sex.
- Don't use an infected person's toothbrush, razor, or anything else that could have blood on it.
- If you get a tattoo or body piercing, make sure it is done with clean tools.
- If you have hepatitis C, don't give your blood or plasma. The person who receives it could become infected with the virus.