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Hepatitis C (HCV)

June 17, 2015

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Table of Contents

What Is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is an inflammation, or swelling, of the liver. Alcohol, drugs (including street drugs, over-the-counter medications, and prescription medications), poisons, and several viruses can all cause hepatitis. Viral hepatitis is the term used for any inflammation of the liver caused by a virus.

Signs of hepatitis include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin, eyes, and lining of the mouth)
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Stool that appears pale and clay-like
  • Fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • Loss of appetite
  • General aching
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea

What Is Hepatitis C?


Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are over three million Americans living with chronic (long-lasting) HCV. The World Health Organization estimates that 150 million people are chronically infected with HCV worldwide, and that three to four million more are infected each year. HCV is particularly common in North Africa, Central Asia, and East Asia.

Approximately half of HIV-negative people clear HCV from their bodies without medical treatment within the first six months of becoming infected. For those living with HIV (HIV+), about one in five people will get rid of the virus without treatment. The majority of people do not clear HCV and go on to develop chronic infection.

Chronic HCV may not cause any symptoms for ten years or more. However, even without symptoms, it can cause serious liver damage leading to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver failure, and death. In fact, HCV is one of the most common causes of liver disease and viral hepatitis is the number one reason for liver transplants in America.

How Is HCV Spread?

HCV is spread in the following ways:

  • Sharing injection needles or "works"
  • Sharing equipment used to snort or smoke drugs (e.g., bills, straws, pipes)
  • Sharing needles or inkwells that are used to apply tattoos
  • Receiving a transfusion of blood, blood products, or organs before 1992 in the US; in some countries, HCV can still be spread through unscreened blood or blood products
  • Having unprotected sex with someone who has HCV
  • Passing the virus from an infected pregnant woman to her baby (less common)
  • Sharing personal care items that may come in contact with another person's blood, such as razors or toothbrushes (less common)

It is important to note that you can not get hepatitis C from casual contact with someone (e.g., hugging, kissing, sharing food and drink). HCV is also not spread through breast milk.

Prevention of HCV

Unfortunately there is still no vaccine to prevent you from being infected with HCV. However, there are vaccines for two other types of hepatitis: A and B. It is strongly recommended that people with HCV get hepatitis A and B vaccinations as early as possible. See The Well Project's articles on hepatitis A and hepatitis B for more information.

HCV is not commonly passed from a pregnant woman to her baby. Mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) occurs in about five out of every hundred cases. Studies have found that the risk for MTCT of HCV is three to four times higher in women living with HIV. There is currently no known treatment that will prevent the transmission of HCV from mother to child.

The best way to prevent HCV infection is to avoid being exposed to blood that is infected with HCV. Do not share equipment to use drugs and make sure tattoo artists use sterile needles and inkwells. Practicing safer sex is also a good idea; you can find tips to protect yourself in The Well Project's Safer Sex article.

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This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.

Reader Comments:

Comment by: lynn b. (chicago) Thu., Apr. 12, 2012 at 1:46 am EDT
if u have HCV does it mean that you also have HIV as well
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