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Understanding Hepatitis C Virus (HCV)

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. There are many kinds of hepatitis. Some are from infections and can be spread. Others are not. Hepatitis C virus (HCV) can be spread to other people. It can lead to lifelong liver disease. This includes chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer.

Symptoms of hepatitis C

Most people have no symptoms until they develop liver disease years later. Symptoms can include:

  • Flulike symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and sore muscles and joints

  • Sore feeling in the upper right abdomen

  • Yellow color in skin and eyes (jaundice)

  • Swelling in the belly

  • Itching

  • Confusion

  • Abnormal bleeding

  • Dark yellow to brown urine

  • Light-colored stool (gray or clay color)

How HCV spreads

HCV spreads through contact with an infected person’s blood and body fluids. This is most likely to happen if:

  • You used an infected needle with IV drug use, tattoos, acupuncture, or body piercing

  • You had a needle stick injury in the hospital

  • You shared personal care items such as razors

  • You had sex without a condom with an infected person (a less common cause)

  • You had a blood transfusion several years ago (blood is now screened for HCV)

  • You shared drug tools (like snorting straws)

  • You have ever been in jail

Many people do not know how they were exposed to HCV. The CDC advises people born between 1945 and 1965 to have 1 screening test. Screening is also advised for people born to mothers with HCV.

Prevent the spread

No vaccine can prevent the spread of HCV and hepatitis C. If you have HCV, it’s up to you to protect other people from the virus.

Do's:

  • Cover all of your skin breaks and sores. If you need help, the person helping you should wear latex gloves.

  • Use condoms during sex.

Don’ts:

  • Don’t donate blood, plasma, body organs, other body tissue, or sperm.

  • Don’t share needles.

  • Don’t share razors, toothbrushes, manicure tools, or other personal items.

Online Medical Reviewer: Jen Lehrer MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Kenny Turley PA-C
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2020
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