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Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus.

When people first get hepatitis C (acute stage) it is often unrecognized because most people do not feel sick. Those who do feel sick may develop fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, jaundice (e.g. a yellow colour to the skin and eyes). Later, some infected persons may feel tired, but many remain entirely symptom free. Some people (up to 20 per cent) get infected and recover completely. However, up to 80 per cent of people infected with hepatitis C become chronically infected.

Because hepatitis C is a slowly progressive disease, most people look and feel well. Although some may develop liver cirrhosis (scarring) or liver cancer, it may take decades to develop these complications.


How hepatitis C is spread?

The hepatitis C virus is present in the blood of infected individuals and it can be passed on through direct blood to blood contact such as:

  • Intravenous drug use and intranasal drug use when sharing contaminated drug-using equipment (e.g. needles, straws, pipes, spoons, cookers, etc.)
  • Through blood transfusions prior to 1992 when screening became available. Presently, the risk is very low because of precautions taken in screening blood donors
  • Occupational exposure, (e.g. needle-stick injury in a health care setting)
  • Tattooing, skin piercing or acupuncture with unsterilized needles that have been in contact with the virus
  • Sharing of personal hygiene items, such as razors and toothbrushes which could have small amounts of blood left on them (although the risk is probably very low)
  • Sexual intercourse - although the risk is extremely low, it is not zero
  • An infected mother can pass the infection to her newborn child

How to reduce your chances of getting hepatitis C

There is no vaccine to protect people against hepatitis C.

  • Do not share needles or other equipment (such as cotton, spoons, and water) for injecting drugs
  • Always use a latex condom/dental dam every time you have sex even if you are using another form of birth control
  • Ensure acupuncture, tattoo, piercing and aesthetic establishments use clean, sterile equipment
  • Do not share personal items that may contain trace amount of blood (i.e. razors, nail clippers, personal glucose monitoring equipment)

How to test for hepatitis C

If you think you may be at risk for hepatitis C, consult your health care provider. Blood tests can determine if you have hepatitis C and would benefit from treatment.


Resources

Hepatitis C - Fact Sheet

CATIE

Canadian Liver Foundation - Viral Liver Disease - Hepatitis C 

Public Health Agency of Canada

eSolutionsGroup