HEP C FAQs
About chronic hepatitis C
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.
Most people with hep C don't have noticeable symptoms at first—or ever. That means you may not know you have it.
The most common symptoms of chronic hep C are tiredness and depression.
Hep C is commonly spread by:
- Sharing drug needles or accidental needlestick injuries
- Being born to a mother who has hep C
- Contact with someone's blood in razors or toothbrushes
- Sex with an infected person
- Getting a tattoo or body piercing in an unregulated setting
Hep C CANNOT be spread by:
- Food, water, or sharing eating utensils
- Hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing, or sneezing
The CDC recommends all adults, ages 18+, get a one-time test for hep C.
You should also be tested if:
- You are pregnant (get tested during each pregnancy)
- You currently inject drugs (get tested regularly)
- You should also get tested regularly if you share needles, syringes, or other items to prepare your drugs
- You used to inject drugs, even if it was just once or many years ago
- You received certain blood products before 1987 or received a blood transfusion or solid organ transplant before 1992
- You have ever had dialysis
- You have HIV
- Your mother had hep C when you were born
- You are a healthcare worker or public safety worker and were exposed to HCV-positive blood by needle stick, sharps, or mucosal exposure
- You have abnormal liver tests or liver disease
Visit the CDC website to find a testing location near you now.
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 or other substances
- Don't share razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers, or other personal care items that may have come into contact with infected blood
- Avoid tattoos or body piercings from facilities not licensed
There are several blood tests that healthcare professionals will perform to find out if you have hep C, including:
- The hep C antibody test, which can tell if you've ever been infected with the virus
- The hep C virus RNA test, which can tell if you have a current infection
It is important to follow up with your healthcare professional about these tests after they are performed.
Key hep C terms
Hepatitis C includes several distinct genotypes, or genetic strains of the virus. Your healthcare professional 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 no hep C virus can be found in your blood 3 months after you finish your hep C treatment. 12 weeks after you complete your treatment, your healthcare professional 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 5-25% of people with hep C will develop cirrhosis within 10-20 years. Your healthcare professional will consider whether you have cirrhosis when determining what treatment options are appropriate for you.
- Chronic hep C is when the infection is long-term or lasts more than 6 months
- More than half of people who become infected with hep C will develop chronic infection