Hepatitis C (HCV) is transmitted when the infected blood of one person gets into the blood stream of another person. Prior to 1992, persons receiving blood transfusions or other blood products were at risk. New screening tests have been used in the United States since 1992 to screen blood. The majority of HCV is currently transmitted through the sharing of needles and needle sharing equipment (works). Health care workers who have been stuck by a needle or cut with other contaminated instruments may be at risk, although the risk is fairly low. Studies show the transmission of HCV through sexual intercourse is possible, but less common than direct exposure to HCV infected blood. The virus can also be passed to a baby during pregnancy or delivery.
Two to twenty five weeks although the average is six to nine weeks.
Most people who are infected with the hepatitis C virus do not have symptoms and lead normal lives. If symptoms are present they are generally mild flu-like symptoms, dark urine, light stools, jaundice, fatigue, and fever.
A simple blood test will tell if you have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus. More specific blood tests can assist in determining the status of the infection. There are three stages. Approximately 15-25% of persons with HCV are able to clear HCV from their system without medical treatment, known as resolved. Persons may be in an acute stage in which the virus is rapidly attacking the liver. Persons in the acute stage may have symptoms but the majority are asymptomatic. The virus may also be in a chronic stage during which time the virus is slowly attacking the liver. Most persons with
HCV are in the chronic stage. It may take years (two decades or more) to develop serious liver problems and most never do.
Can Hepatitis C be treated?
Yes. There are several medications available to treat chronic Hepatitis C, including new treatments that appear to be more effective and have fewer side effects than previous options. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains a complete list of approved treatments for Hepatitis C [FDA].
What can a person with chronic Hepatitis C do to take care of his or her liver?
People with chronic Hepatitis C should be monitored regularly by an experienced doctor. They should avoid alcohol because it can cause additional liver damage. They also should check with a health professional before taking any prescription pills, supplements, or over-the-counter medications, as these can potentially damage the liver. If liver damage is present, a person should check with his or her doctor about getting vaccinated against Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B.
Testing for Hepatitis C
Talk to your doctor about getting tested for hepatitis C if you:
- Are a current or former drug user who used needles to inject, even if you only did this one time or did it many years ago
- Have a sex partner who has chronic hepatitis C or have had many sex partners
- Had your blood filtered by a machine (hemodialysis) for a long period of time because your kidneys weren’t working
- Received a blood transfusion or organ transplant from a donor before July 1992
- Received a blood clotting factor to treat a bleeding disorder (like hemophilia) before 1987
- Are a healthcare worker and were exposed to blood through a needle stick or had other contact with blood or bodily fluids
- Have HIV
- Have evidence of liver disease, such as abnormal liver tests
- Were born between 1945 and 1965. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a one-time screening for all baby boomers.
Do not share needles or "works." Do not share personal items which could be contaminated with blood (i.e. razors, toothbrushes). Avoid unprotected vaginal, oral, and anal sex. Clean up spilled blood with bleach and wear gloves when touching blood.
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.