What is Hepatitis C Virus (HCV)?

  • Hepatitis is an inflammation (swelling or tenderness) of the liver.
  • Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is the most common form of viral hepatitis and usually causes a chronic, long-term infection lasting months or years before diagnosis.
  • Symptoms of HCV are often like the flu and not too harsh.
  • Many people with HCV don’t have any symptoms at all, which means they do not know they are infected and may unknowingly spread the infection to other folks.
  • There are options to treat and now cure, HCV.
  • HCV can be acute or chronic.
  • If inflammation of the liver lasts at least six months or longer, it is called chronic HCV.
  • There is no vaccine to prevent HCV at this time.
  • About 3.5 million people in the U.S. have chronic HCV.
  • People born from 1945–1965 are five times more likely to have HCV.

How Does Hepatitis C Spread?

  • HCV is spread through a carrier, which is someone who has the virus in his or her blood.
    • A carrier may or may not have symptoms of HCV.
  • Since the virus is in the blood, it can spread through exposure to blood or, rarely, bodily fluids of a carrier. This can happen through
    • IV drug use.
    • Contaminated needles.
    • Being born to a mother with HCV.
  • Less often, it can be spread through
    • High-risk sexual behavior (especially if you are HIV positive).- Women with HCV should avoid sex during menstruation.
    • Sharing personal care items that could have a carrier’s blood, such as razors, toothbrushes, communal tattoo needles and unsterilized manicure and pedicure tools.

HCV is not spread through

  • Sharing eating utensils.
  • Coughing or sneezing.
  • Food or water.
  • Touching, such as hugging, kissing or holding hands.
  • Breastfeeding.

The Liver

  • The liver is one of the most important organs in your body.
  • It weighs about three pounds.
  • It sits on the upper right side of the torso, below the ribs.
  • The liver
    • Makes bile.
    • Cleans alcohol and poisons from your system.
    • Stores certain vitamins, minerals, sugars and iron.
    • Filters and detoxifies chemicals in what you eat, breathe and absorb through the skin.
    • Regulates fat stores and controls the making and release of cholesterol.
    • Kills poisonous substances.
    • Changes the food you eat into energy, clotting factors, immune factors, hormones and proteins.
    • Breaks down drugs and medications.

Symptoms

Many cases of hepatitis C virus (HCV) are not found, because there are no symptoms or the symptoms are vague and may seem like the flu. Symptoms may start from two weeks to six months after exposure, though the average is six to seven weeks.

Some people with HCV may have:

  • Fatigue (feeling weak or tired).
  • Nausea.
  • Throwing up.
  • Diarrhea (loose stool).
  • Belly pain.
  • Muscle and joint aches.
  • Changes in the color of urine and stool.
  • Jaundice (when your skin and/or the whites of your eyes turn yellow). Jaundice may also cause itching.

You Should Get Tested for HCV If

Getting Tested

  • You were born between 1945 and 1965.
  • You have abnormal liver blood test results.
  • You work in a place where you were exposed to blood through a needle stick or another sharp object.
  • You have HIV.
  • You use — or used to use — injection drugs (even if it was just once).
  • You got a blood transfusion or an organ transplant before July 1992.
  • You were treated for a blood clotting issue before 1987.
  • You are on hemodialysis treatment long-term.
  • You have a sexual partner that is HCV infected.
  • Your mother has had HCV.
  • You have snorted street drugs.
  • You have a “street” tattoo.
  • You have been in prison or incarcerated.
  • Your spouse or household contacts have HCV.
  • You have signs of liver disease.

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