FAQs for the Public
means inflammation of the liver. Toxins, certain drugs,
some diseases, heavy alcohol use, and bacterial and viral
infections can all cause hepatitis. Hep
atitis is also the name of a family of viral infections
that affect the liver; the most common types are hepatitis
A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.
What is the difference between hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and
A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are diseases caused by three
different viruses. Although each can cause similar symptoms,
they have different modes of transmission and can affect
the liver differently. Hepatitis A appears only as an acute
or newly occurring infection and does not become chronic.
People with hepatitis A usually improve without treatment.
Hepatitis B and hepatitis C can also begin as acute infections,
but in some people, the virus remains in the body, resulting
in chronic disease and long-term liver problems. There are
vaccines to prevent hepatitis A and B; however, there is
not one for hepatitis C. If a person has had one type of
viral hepatitis in the past, it is still possible to get
the other types.
What is hepatitis C?
C is a contagious liver disease that ranges in severity
from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong
illness that attacks the liver. It results from infection
with the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is spread primarily
through contact with the blood of an infected person. Hepatitis
C can be either acute or chronic.
hepatitis C virus infection is a short-term illness that
occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed
to the hepatitis C virus. For most people, acute infection
leads to chronic infection.
hepatitis C virus infection is a long-term illness that
occurs when the hepatitis C virus remains in a persons
body. Hepatitis C virus infection can last a lifetime and
lead to serious liver problems, including cirrhosis (scarring
of the liver) or liver cancer.
How common is acute hepatitis C in the United States?
2006, there were an estimated 19,000 new hepatitis C virus
infections in the United States. However, the official number
of reported hepatitis C cases is much lower. Many people
who are infected never have symptoms and therefore never
come to the attention of medical or public health officials.
How common is chronic hepatitis C in the United States?
An estimated 3.2 million persons in the United States have
chronic hepatitis C virus infection. Most people do not know
they are infected because they dont look or feel sick.
How likely is it that acute hepatitis C will become chronic?
Approximately 75%85% of people who become infected with
hepatitis C virus develop chronic infection.
How serious is chronic hepatitis C?
Chronic hepatitis C is a serious disease that can result in
long-term health problems, including liver damage, liver failure,
liver cancer, or even death. It is the leading cause of cirrhosis
and liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation
in the United States. Approximately 8,00010,000 people
die every year from hepatitis C related liver disease.
How is hepatitis C spread?
C is spread when blood from a person infected with the hepatitis
C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected.
Today, most people become infected with the hepatitis C
virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs.
Before 1992, when widespread screening of the blood supply
began in the United States, hepatitis C was also commonly
spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants.
can become infected with the hepatitis C virus during such
needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject drugs
Needlestick injuries in healthcare settings
Being born to a mother who has hepatitis C
Less commonly, a person can also get hepatitis C virus infection
personal care items that may have come in contact with another
persons blood, such as razors or toothbrushes
Having sexual contact with a person infected with the hepatitis
hepatitis C be spread through sexual contact?
but the risk of transmission from sexual contact is believed
to be low. The risk increases for those who have multiple
sex partners, have a sexually transmitted disease, engage
in rough sex, or are infected with HIV. More research is
needed to better understand how and when hepatitis C can
be spread through sexual contact.
Can you get hepatitis C by getting a tattoo or piercing?
major research studies have not shown hepatitis C to be
spread through licensed, commercial tattooing facilities.
However, transmission of hepatitis C (and other infectious
diseases) is possible when poor infection-control practices
are used during tattooing or piercing. Body art is becoming
increasingly popular in the United States, and unregulated
tattooing and piercing are known to occur in prisons and
other informal or unregulated settings. Further research
is needed to determine if these types of settings and exposures
are responsible for hepatitis C virus transmission.
Can hepatitis C be spread within a household?
but this does not occur very often. If hepatitis C virus
is spread within a household, it is most likely a result
of direct, through-the-skin exposure to the blood of an
infected household member.
What are ways hepatitis C is not spread?
C virus is not spread by sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding,
hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing, or sneezing.
It is also not spread
through food or water.
Who is at risk for hepatitis C?
people are at increased risk for hepatitis C, including
injection drug users (currently the most common way hepatitis
C virus is spread in the United States)
Past injection drug users, including those who injected
only one time or many years ago
Recipients of donated blood, blood products, and organs
(once a common means of transmission but now rare in the
United States since blood screening became available in
People who received a blood product for clotting problems
made before 1987
Hemodialysis patients or persons who spent many years
on dialysis for kidney failure
People who received body piercing or tattoos done with
People with known exposures to the hepatitis C virus,
Healthcare workers injured by needlesticks
Recipients of blood or organs from a donor who tested
positive for the hepatitis C virus
Children born to mothers infected with the hepatitis C
common risks include:
sexual contact with a person who is infected with the
hepatitis C virus
Sharing personal care items, such as razors or toothbrushes,
that may have come in contact with the blood of an infected
What is the risk of a pregnant woman passing hepatitis
C to her baby?
Hepatitis C is rarely passed from a pregnant woman to
her baby. About 4 of every 100 infants born to mothers
with hepatitis C become infected with the virus. However,
the risk becomes greater if the mother has both HIV infection
and hepatitis C.
What are the symptoms of acute hepatitis C?
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, including
Loss of appetite
Clay-colored bowel movements
Jaundice (yellow color in the skin or eyes)
How soon after exposure to hepatitis C do symptoms appear?
symptoms occur, the average time is 67 weeks after
exposure, but this can range from 2 weeks to 6 months. However,
many people infected with the hepatitis C virus do not develop
Can a person spread hepatitis C without having symptoms?
even if a person with hepatitis C has no symptoms, he or
she can still spread the virus to others.
Is it possible to have hepatitis C and not know it?
many people who are infected with the hepatitis C virus
do not know they are infected because they do not look or
What are the symptoms of chronic hepatitis C?
people with chronic hepatitis C do not have any symptoms.
However, if a person has been infected for many years, his
or her liver may be damaged. In many cases, there are no
symptoms of the disease until liver problems have developed.
In persons without symptoms, hepatitis C is often detected
during routine blood tests to measure liver function and
liver enzyme (protein produced by the liver) level.
Can a person have normal liver enzyme (e.g., ALT) results
and still have hepatitis C?
It is common for persons with chronic hepatitis C to have
a liver enzyme level that goes up and down, with periodic
returns to normal or near normal. Some infected persons
have liver enzyme levels that are normal for over a year
even though they have chronic liver disease. If the liver
enzyme level is normal, persons should have their enzyme
level re-checked several times over a 612 month period.
If the liver enzyme level remains normal, the doctor may
check it less frequently, such as once a year.
Who should get tested for hepatitis C?
to your doctor about being tested for hepatitis C if any
of the following are true:
are a current or former injection drug user, even if you
injected only one time or many years ago.
You were treated for a blood clotting problem before 1987.
You received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before
You are on long-term hemodialysis treatment.
You have abnormal liver tests or liver disease.
You work in healthcare or public safety and were exposed
to blood through a needlestick or other sharp object injury.
You are infected with HIV.
If you are pregnant, should you be tested for hepatitis
No, getting tested for hepatitis C is not part of routine
prenatal care. However, if a pregnant woman has risk factors
for hepatitis C virus infection, she should speak with her
doctor about getting tested.
What blood tests are used to test for hepatitis C?
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.
How is acute hepatitis C treated?
is no medication available to treat acute hepatitis C infection.
Doctors usually recommend rest, adequate nutrition, and
is chronic hepatitis C treated?
person should discuss treatment
options with a doctor who specializes in treating hepatitis.
This can include some internists, family practitioners,
infectious disease doctors, or hepatologists (liver specialists).
People with chronic hepatitis C should be monitored regularly
for signs of liver disease and evaluated for treatment.
The treatment most often used for hepatitis C is a
combination of two medicines, interferon and ribavirin.
However, not every person with chronic hepatitis C needs
or will benefit from treatment.
In addition, the drugs may cause serious side effects in
What are the long-term effects of hepatitis C?
every 100 people infected with the hepatitis C virus, about
people will develop chronic hepatitis C virus infection;
6070 people will go on to develop chronic liver
520 people will go on to develop cirrhosis over
a period of 2030 years
15 people will die from cirrhosis or liver cancer
Is it possible to get over hepatitis C?
Yes, approximately 15%25% of people who get hepatitis
C will clear the virus from their bodies without treatment
and will not develop chronic infection. Experts do not
fully understand why this happens for some people.
What can a person with chronic hepatitis C do to take care
of his or her liver?
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
Should a person infected with the hepatitis C virus be restricted
from working in certain jobs or settings?
recommendations for prevention and control of the hepatitis
C virus infection state that people should not be excluded
from work, school, play, child care, or other settings because
they have hepatitis C. There is no evidence that people
can get hepatitis C from food handlers, teachers, or other
service providers without blood-to-blood contact.
What is HIV and hepatitis C virus coinfection?
and hepatitis C virus coinfection refers to being infected
with both HIV and the hepatitis C virus. Coinfection is
more common in persons who inject drugs. In fact, 50%90%
of HIV-infected persons who use injection drugs are also
infected with the hepatitis C virus. To learn more about
Can I donate blood, organs, or semen if I have hepatitis C?
if you ever tested positive for the hepatitis C virus (or
hepatitis B virus), experts recommend never donating blood,
organs, or semen because this can spread the infection to
Is there a vaccine that can prevent hepatitis C?
yet. Vaccines are available only for hepatitis A and hepatitis
B. Research into the development of a vaccine is under way.
Can a person get hepatitis C from a mosquito or other insect
C virus has not been shown to be transmitted by mosquitoes
or other insects.
How long does the hepatitis C virus survive outside the body?
hepatitis C virus can survive outside the body at room temperature,
on environmental surfaces, for at least 16 hours but no
longer than 4 days.
How should blood spills be cleaned from surfaces to make sure
that hepatitis C virus is gone?
Any blood spills including dried blood, which can
still be infectious should be cleaned using a dilution
of one part household bleach to 10 parts water. Gloves should
be worn when cleaning up blood spills.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / Last updated
July 10, 2008.