Hepatitis C Facts

Hepatitis C is a virus that primarily attacks the liver. Problems caused by hepatitis C can range in severity. It can cause a mild infection that lasts only a few weeks, or it can go on to cause a chronic infection. If chronic hepatitis C is not treated, it can become a serious, lifelong illness that can lead to liver failure and cancer. Effective treatment is available for hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C Facts
Download facts about Hepatitis C

How is hepatitis C spread?

 Hepatitis C is spread by: 

  • Sharing needles or other equipment used to inject drugs
  • Needle stick injuries in health care settings
  • Being born to a mother who has hepatitis C
  • Receiving a tattoo in an unprofessional setting

Less commonly, people can get hepatitis C by:

  • Sharing personal care items that may come into contact with blood, like razors or toothbrushes
  • Having sexual contact with a person who has hepatitis C

What are the symptoms of hepatitis C?
Many people with hepatitis C do not have symptoms. About 20-30% of people with chronic hepatitis C will develop irreversible liver damage, known as cirrhosis, which may lead to liver failure, liver cancer, and death. 

Symptoms that do occur may show up 6 to 7 weeks after exposure, and can include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Joint pain
  • Yellow skin and/or eyes (jaundice)
  • Depression

Who is at most at risk for hepatitis C?

  • People who currently use or have ever used injection drugs
  • Baby boomers (born 1945-1965)
  • People who received a blood transfusion before 1992
  • Hemodialysis patients or people who spent many years on dialysis for kidney failure
  • People who received body piercing or tattoos done with non-sterile instruments
  • People with known exposures to the hepatitis C virus, such as:
    • People exposed to hepatitis C in a healthcare setting
    • Recipients of blood or organs from a donor who tested positive for the hepatitis C virus
  • People living with HIV
  • Children born to mothers who have hepatitis C

What should I do if I think I have hepatitis C?
Get tested if you think you have been exposed to hepatitis C. Treatment is available, and hepatitis C can be cured if treated effectively.

How is hepatitis C treated?
All types of hepatitis C can be treated through medication prescribed by a doctor.

How can I prevent hepatitis C? 

  • Do not share needles or equipment used to inject drugs
  • Do not share needles or equipment used for piercings or tattoos
  • Use condoms during sex
  • Follow safety precautions and wear protective clothing and gloves when disposing of contaminated sharp objects

For more information, call Denver Public Health at (303) 602-3540.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Denver Public Health.