FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUTHEP C
LEARN THE FACTS ABOUT HEPATITIS C
You might be wondering what hep C is and why it's important to get treated—even if you don't feel any symptoms. Well, you're not alone. Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about hep C.
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About chronic hepatitis C
If you have hep C, you are not alone—about 3.4 million people are living with hep C in the United States. Hep C is a disease caused by a virus that infects the liver. A hep C infection can lead to inflammation of the liver and cause the immune system to attack healthy liver cells. It can be spread through blood-to-blood contact or when the blood from a person with hep C comes into contact with another person’s blood.
Hepatitis C can be a silent disease, meaning that people can have it but not have noticeable symptoms—approximately 70%–80% of people with acute hepatitis C do not have any symptoms. Some people, however, can have mild to severe symptoms soon after being infected.
As many people have no symptoms, they may not know that they have hepatitis C, and therefore don’t seek treatment. Symptoms of chronic hep C may take years to develop. During this time, the infected person can spread the virus to others.
Symptoms of both acute and chronic hepatitis C may include:
- Fatigue (feeling tired even if you’ve had a normal amount of rest and activity)
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea (upset stomach)
- Abdominal pain (pain in the gut)
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored stools
- Joint pain
- Jaundice (yellow color in the eyes or skin)
If you have chronic hep C, you may have to make a few lifestyle changes to stay as healthy as possible. It’s important to discuss the following with your doctor:
- Reducing or stopping alcohol intake
- Eating a healthy diet
- Giving up cigarette smoking
Hepatitis C is caused by a virus that spreads when blood from a person infected with the hepatitis C virus comes into contact with the blood of someone who is not infected. It does not spread through food or water, or by sitting on toilet seats.
Hep C cannot be transmitted by sharing knives, forks, or spoons; breastfeeding; hugging, kissing, or holding hands; or coughing or sneezing.
Talk to your doctor about being tested for hepatitis C if any of the following are true:
- You were born from 1945 through 1965
- You are a current or past user of shared needles
- You were treated for a blood clotting problem before 1987
- You received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992
- You are on long-term hemodialysis treatment
- You have abnormal liver tests or liver disease
- You work in health care or public safety and were exposed to blood through a needlestick or other sharp object injury
- You are infected with HIV
- You are a child born to an HCV-positive mother
- You were ever in jail or prison
- Have ever used intranasal drugs
- Have gotten tattoos or body piercings from an unlicensed facility or in an informal setting
There are ways to lessen the risk of getting the hep C virus that you may want to discuss with your family and friends.
Some of these include:
- Avoid sharing or reusing needles, syringes, or any other equipment to prepare and inject drugs, steroids, hormones, or other substances
- Don't share razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers, or other personal care items that may have come into contact with infected blood
- Only get tattoos or body piercings from a formal, licensed facility
Several different blood tests are used to test for hepatitis C. A doctor may order just one or a combination of these tests. Typically, a person will first get a screening test that will show whether he or she has developed antibodies to the hepatitis C virus. (An antibody is a substance found in the blood that the body produces in response to a virus.) Having a positive antibody test means that a person was exposed to the virus at some time in his or her life. If the antibody test is positive, a doctor will most likely order a second test to confirm whether the virus is still present in the person’s bloodstream. Talk to your doctor or contact your local department of health to find testing centers in your area. If you would like to find a hep C specialist in your area, click here for our Doctor Locator Tool.
Learn about key terms in hep C
Hepatitis C includes several distinct genotypes, or genetic strains of the virus. Your doctor will take your viral genotype into consideration when deciding what treatment to offer you, the dosage of your medications, and how long the treatment will last.
There are 6 known major genotypes and more than 50 subtypes of hepatitis C. In the United States, genotype 1 is most common.
“Cured” means that the hep C virus is no longer detectable in your blood 3 months after you finish your hep C treatment. 12 weeks after you complete your treatment, your doctor will do a blood test to determine if the hep C virus can still be detected.
Chronic hepatitis C can lead to scarring of the liver (sometimes called "cirrhosis"). In patients with cirrhosis, scar tissue replaces healthy tissue.
Cirrhosis can progress so slowly that people feel no symptoms for years, until damage to the liver has begun to take place. Some visible signs of cirrhosis are red palms, small spider-like veins on your face or body, and fluid in your abdomen (gut area). Approximately 10%-20% of people will develop cirrhosis as a result of their hepatitis C infection over a period of 20 to 30 years. Your doctor will take whether you have cirrhosis into consideration when determining what treatment options are appropriate for you.
Infection with hep C can be acute (lasting a short amount of time, less than 6 months from time of exposure) or chronic (long-term, or lasting more than 6 months).
Approximately 75-85% of people who become infected with hepatitis C virus develop chronic infection, which can last a lifetime.
When the hep C infection advances and cirrhosis (liver scarring) progresses, the liver begins to fail and can no longer remove toxic substances from the blood like it used to.