What is hepatitis C (hep C)?
Hepatitis C virus destroys the liver.
Hepatitis (hep C) is a form of viral hepatitis. Hepatitis C causes acute and chronic liver disease. Hepatitis C is transmitted when the virus in infected blood from one person infects another person. Hepatitis C disease is caused by a virus termed HCV (a single strand RNA virus) that infects liver cells. Hepatitis C was referred to in older scientific publications as non-A or non-B hepatitis.
Hepatitis C Symptoms
Most people with hepatitis C or hep C have no symptoms when they contract the
infection. Those that do have symptoms of hep C infection may experience
- joint pains,
- poor appetite, and
Is hepatitis C contagious?
Hepatitis C is contagious. It is mainly transmitted via blood-to-blood transfer. This transmission can occur by
- sharing needles,
- tattoo needles,
- surgical or diagnostic instruments,
- sexual contact, and
- organ transplants.
Casual contact (including exposure to saliva and skin to skin such as with a handshake or) rarely, if ever, can transmit hepatitis C virus.
How long before I know I'm infected and have hepatitis C?
The incubation period (time from exposure to the virus to symptom development) for hep C is variable. The time period may vary from about 2 weeks to 6 months with 6-10 weeks being the average time span. However, about 80% of those infected may not develop acute symptoms.
Symptoms of hepatitis C develop slowly and include
About 70% to 90% of infected people do not clear the virus and become chronic carriers. Tests for diagnosing hepatitis C virus include detecting antibodies to the virus and a PCR test that detects virus antigens.
Hepatitis C (Hep C) Symptoms and Treatment
How is hepatitis C spread?
Hepatitis C is spread person-to-person usually by direct contact with another person's blood who is infected with hepatitis C virus. Individuals that share needles are at a high risk to become infected. Surgical and other instruments that are not properly decontaminated can also spread hepatitis C to others. Moreover, some patients that receive organ transplants from individuals that have the virus, but no symptoms, can transmit the disease to the organ transplant recipient.
How will I know when I am no longer contagious and cured of hepatitis C?
Treatments are usually long-term (for example, 12-24 weeks ) and a person is not considered "cured" until 6 months have passed with no virus detected in their blood samples. Treatments are varied according to the individual's disease.
When should I seek medical care for hepatitis C?
If a person develops one or more of the following symptoms, they should seek medical care:
Let your doctor know if you shared needles with someone or you have had contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with hepatitis C.
If a person is known to have hepatitis C and develops severe nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, and/or mental status changes (confusion or unresponsiveness, for example), they should be evaluated in an emergency department immediately.
Medically Reviewed on 9/3/2019
Chopra, S, MD. "Patient education: Hepatitis C (Beyond the Basics)" UpToDate. Updated: Sep 18, 2017.
World Health Organization (WHO). Hepatitis C.