Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus. Today, most people become infected with the Hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. For some people, hepatitis C is a short-term illness but for 70%–85% of people who become infected with Hepatitis C, it becomes a long-term, chronic infection. Chronic Hepatitis C is a serious disease than can result in long-term health problems, even death. The majority of infected persons might not be aware of their infection because they are not clinically ill. There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C. The best way to prevent Hepatitis C is by avoiding behaviors that can spread the disease, especially injecting drugs.
How is Hepatitis C transmitted?
HCV is transmitted primarily through exposures to infectious blood, such as
- Injection drug use
- Receipt of donated blood, blood products, and organs.
- Needlestick injuries in health care settings
- Birth to an HCV-infected mother
HCV can also be spread infrequently through
- Sex with an HCV-infected person (an inefficient means of transmission)
- Sharing personal items contaminated with infectious blood, such as razors or toothbrushes (also inefficient vectors of transmission)
- Other health care procedures that involve invasive procedures, such as injections (usually recognized in the context of outbreaks)
HCV cannot be spread through coughing, sneezing, breastfeeding (unless nipples are cracked or bleeding) or by casual contact such as hugging, kissing and sharing food/drinks with an infected person.
What are the signs and symptoms of acute HCV infection?
Persons with newly acquired HCV infection usually are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms that are unlikely to prompt a visit to a health care professional. When symptoms occur, they can include:
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored stool
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Joint pain
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