Hepatitis C Infection (HCV, Hep C)

  • Medical Author:

    Sandra Gonzalez Gompf, MD, FACP is a U.S. board-certified Infectious Disease subspecialist. Dr. Gompf received a Bachelor of Science from the University of Miami, and a Medical Degree from the University of South Florida. Dr. Gompf completed residency training in Internal Medicine at the University of South Florida followed by subspecialty fellowship training there in Infectious Diseases under the directorship of Dr. John T. Sinnott, IV.

  • Medical Author: Siddharth Bansal, MD
    Siddharth Bansal, MD

  • Medical Author: Ashwani Singal, MD, MS, FACG
  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

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Quick GuideHepatitis C (Hep C) Symptoms and Treatment

Hepatitis C (Hep C) Symptoms and Treatment

What is the contagious period for hepatitis C?

Because hepatitis C is transmitted by exposure to blood, there is no specific period of contagiousness. If a person develops chronic hepatitis C, their blood carries the virus and is contagious to others for their entire life, unless the person is cured of their hepatitis C.

What is the incubation period for hepatitis C?

This is hard to say for certain what the incubation period for hepatitis C is because most people who are infected with hepatitis C do not have symptoms early in the course of the infection. Those who develop symptoms early after getting infected (6 to 10 weeks) experience mild gastrointestinal symptoms that may not prompt a visit to the doctor.

How long does it take for symptoms to appear after contracting hepatitis C?

This is hard to say for certain because most people who are infected with hepatitis C do not have symptoms early in the course of the infection. Those who develop symptoms early after getting infected (6 to 10 weeks) experience mild gastrointestinal symptoms that may not prompt a visit to the doctor.

How is hepatitis C spread?

  • Hepatitis C (hepatitis C virus, or HCV) is spread by exposure to infected blood.
  • The most common way of getting hepatitis C is from contaminated blood on needles shared by IV drug users.
  • Accidental needle-sticks in healthcare workers also have transmitted the virus. The average risk of getting hepatitis C infection from a stick with a contaminated needle is 1.8%.
  • Before 1992, some people acquired the hepatitis C infection from blood transfusions or blood products. Since 1992, all blood products have been screened for hepatitis C, and cases of hepatitis C due to blood transfusion now are extremely rare.
  • Hepatitis C infection also can be passed from mother to unborn child. Approximately 4% of children born to mothers infected with hepatitis C become infected.
  • Hepatitis C is not transmitted by breast-milk. However, nipples may crack and bleed during the first few weeks until the nipples are adapted to nursing, and the infant may be exposed to infected blood. If this occurs, breastfeeding should stop, and milk production can be maintained by pumping the milk and discarding it until healed.
  • A very small number of cases of hepatitis C are transmitted through sexual intercourse. The risk of transmission of hepatitis C from an infected individual to a non-infected spouse or sexual partner without the use of condoms over a lifetime has been estimated to be between 1% and 4%.
  • Hepatitis C is not transmitted by casual contact, kissing, coughing, sneezing, or sharing eating utensils. There is no transmission by bug bites. However, because of the potential for blood exposure, members of the household are advised not to share shaving razors, nail clippers, or toothbrushes.
  • Poor infection control practices during tattooing and body piercing potentially can lead to spread of infection. This may occur in prison or nonprofessional situations, but it has not been reported in licensed, commercial tattooing facilities where it has been studied.
  • There have been some outbreaks of hepatitis C when instruments exposed to blood have been re-used without adequate cleaning and sterilization between patients.
  • Hepatitis C can be transmitted from an organ donor to an organ recipient. Donors of organs are tested for hepatitis C.
    • If the donor who provides the organ is infected with hepatitis C, it is offered to a recipient who also is infected with hepatitis C.
    • For kidney transplant recipients, however, this does not seem to affect long-term outcome after transplantation.
    • For liver transplant recipients who have hepatitis C and receive an organ from a person who is not infected with hepatitis C, the transplanted organ is expected to become infected within a few weeks. Fortunately newer medications are allowing successful treatment of hepatitis C after transplants, and this area of medicine continues to evolve.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/12/2016

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