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Hepatitis C: A Threat from the Past

Hepatitis C is a liver disease. It's caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Over time, HCV can lead to cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer. Most people who have hepatitis C don’t have any symptoms for years. Many don’t know that they are infected until their liver is already damaged.

Are you at risk?

Hepatitis C is spread by contact with the blood of someone who has HCV. These factors raise your risk for hepatitis C:

  • Injecting yourself with illegal drugs, even if it was only once or a long time ago

  • Receiving a clotting factor to treat a blood-clotting problem before 1987

  • Having an organ transplant or blood transfusion before July 1992

  • Coming in contact with blood infected with HCV through a job in the health field

  • Having hemodialysis for a long time

  • Living with someone who has HCV and sharing razors, toothbrushes, or other personal items that may have blood on them

  • Injecting or snorting drugs

  • Having sex with someone who has HCV

Women with HCV may also pass the virus to their baby at birth. It’s possible to get hepatitis C by getting a tattoo or piercing with tools that are not sterilized. You can’t get hepatitis C through casual contact with someone who has HCV. You can't get HCV by hugging or kissing someone who is infected.

Get tested

If you think that you might be at risk, ask your healthcare provider for a test just to be safe.

Your healthcare provider may decide to do more than one test to make sure of the results and to see how much your liver has been affected.

The CDC advises that all adults have a one-time test for hepatitis C, and again in certain situations, such as when pregnant. This is important because most people with hepatitis C don't know they have it. It can be treated once known.

A positive result

A healthcare provider who finds that you have hepatitis C may refer you to a liver specialist for more testing. Some people with hepatitis C develop liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. But most never have major liver problems.

Infection is most common among those born between 1945 and 1965. The majority of these people were probably infected during the 1970s and 1980s, when rates were highest. But there is a resurgence of hepatitis C lately among some populations.

Treatment choices

Healthcare providers usually treat hepatitis C with medicines.

These medicines are very effective. They are all taken by mouth. They work in people with early and late stages of the disease. They also have few side effects. 

Because these medicines are so effective and easy to take, everyone with hepatitis C should see a healthcare provider to talk about treatment.

Online Medical Reviewer: Jen Lehrer MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Tennille Dozier RN BSN RDMS
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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