Hepatitis C (HCV)

Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver. It is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The virus is most commonly spread through the sharing of equipment for drug use. People with chronic HCV infection are at an increased risk of developing serious health complications. Treatment is available and can cure the majority of people with hepatitis C.

Symptoms

Many people infected with HCV will not show any symptoms. Others may not show symptoms for decades. When symptoms appear, they can include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, rash, dark urine, pale stools, and belly pain. People with chronic infection may develop health complications such as liver damage or liver cancer.

Causes

HCV is spread through contact with infected blood. The virus is most commonly spread through sharing of equipment for drug use, tattoo or body-piercing. Spread of HCV by sexual contact is not common, but can occur.

Individuals who were exposed to contaminated blood or blood products or who underwent organ transplantation in Canada prior to 1992 may be at risk. This was before routine screening of blood products occurred.

Pregnant people can pass on the infection to their baby during childbirth, but the risk is very low.

Treatment

One out of four people infected with HCV will clear the virus on their own during the first six months after infection.

Three out of four people go on to develop chronic HCV infection. There are medications available to treat HCV. Treatment can prevent serious liver damage and most people can be cured. As symptoms may not show up for decades, it is important to find out if you have the virus. This is so treatment can start immediately. Testing is the only way to find out if you have HCV.

Prevention

Taking precautions may help reduce your risk of HCV infection.

  • Do not share needles or other equipment for drug use. Use new needles and equipment every time.
  • If you are likely to be in contact with someone else's blood, wear disposable gloves. Also, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 15 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before putting on and after taking off the gloves.
  • When getting a tattoo or body piercing, never allow use of homemade equipment or re-use equipment.
  • Practice safer sex (e.g., use condoms/barrier methods correctly and consistently).

Talk with a doctor or health care provider about your risk for Hepatitis C (HCV). Have an open and honest conversation about your sexual history and testing for STIs. Your doctor can give you the best advice on any testing and treatment that you may need.


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