What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver caused by a virus. The infection can cause swelling and scarring of the liver. The illness can be mild with few symptoms in some people, while others can experience severe disease. Many people carry the infection in their blood for a lifetime. These people have chronic hepatitis C infection and are at risk of long-term liver problems.
Some people are at higher risk of getting a hepatitis C infection such as people who use illicit drugs and share drug-using equipment.
Hepatitis C is a reportable disease in Ontario.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis C?
Many people with hepatitis C do not feel sick when they first become infected and may spread the virus without even knowing it. Others may develop symptoms such as:
- aches and pains
- nausea and vomiting
- loss of appetite
- skin rash
- yellow skin and eyes (jaundice)
You should see a health care provider if the illness seems to be causing more serious symptoms.
How is hepatitis C spread?
Hepatitis C is spread through the blood and in body fluids containing blood, of an infected person. You can become infected by sharing illicit drug equipment with someone who has a hepatitis C infection. Sharing equipment for body piercing, ear piercing, tattooing; or sharps such as razors and nail clippers are also ways of spreading hepatitis C infection.
Rarely hepatitis C is spread between sexual partners. This is most likely to happen when blood is present in body fluids.
A pregnant woman with hepatitis C virus can spread the infection to her unborn baby.
How is hepatitis C treated?
There are some treatments for hepatitis C that are available and generally take 6 to 12 months to complete. The goal of the treatment is to eliminate the virus from the body and therefore prevent long-term health problems such as liver disease and liver cancer from happening.
You can treat mild symptoms at home.
How is hepatitis C prevented?
There is no vaccine available to prevent hepatitis C, however research is underway in developing one. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid contact with blood and with body fluids containing blood, of someone with hepatitis C virus.
Avoid sharing items that have come into contact with the blood of a person with hepatitis C infection such as injection drug equipment, body piercing or tattooing equipment, or personal sharp items such as razors and nail clippers.