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What I need to know about Hepatitis C
On this page:

What is hepatitis C?
What causes hepatitis C?
How could I get hepatitis C?
Could I get hepatitis C from a blood transfusion?
What are the symptoms?
What are the tests for hepatitis C?
How is hepatitis C treated?
How can I protect myself?
For More Information
Acknowledgments
 
What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a liver disease.
Hepatitis (HEP-ah-TY-tis) makes your liver swell and stops it from working right.

You need a healthy liver. The liver does many things to keep you alive. The liver fights infections and stops bleeding. It removes drugs and other poisons from your blood. The liver also stores energy for when you need it.

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What causes hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is caused by a virus.
A virus is a germ that causes sickness. (For example, the flu is caused by a virus.) People can pass viruses to each other. The virus that causes hepatitis C is called the hepatitis C virus.

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How could I get hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is spread by contact with an infected person's blood.
You could get hepatitis C by
  You could get hepatitis C by sharing drug needles.
sharing drug needles


getting pricked with a needle that has infected blood on it (hospital workers can get hepatitis C this way)


having sex with an infected person, especially if you or your partner has other sexually transmitted diseases


being born to a mother with hepatitis C


In rare cases, you could get hepatitis C by

getting a tattoo or body piercing with unsterilized, dirty tools


You can NOT get hepatitis C by

shaking hands with an infected person


hugging an infected person


kissing an infected person


sitting next to an infected person


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Could I get hepatitis C from a blood transfusion?
If you had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992, you might have hepatitis C.
Before 1992, doctors could not check blood for hepatitis C, and some people received infected blood. If you had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992, ask a doctor to test you for hepatitis C. (See "What are the tests for hepatitis C?")

 
A doctor can test you for hepatitis C.

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What are the symptoms?
Many people with hepatitis C don't have symptoms.
However, some people with hepatitis C feel like they have the flu.

 
So, you might

feel tired


feel sick to your stomach


have a fever


not want to eat


have stomach pain


have diarrhea
Some people have

dark yellow urine


light-colored stools


yellowish eyes and skin
If you have symptoms or think you might have hepatitis C, go to a doctor.

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What are the tests for hepatitis C?
 
  The doctor will take some blood to check for hepatitis C.
 
To check for hepatitis C, the doctor will test your blood.
These tests show if you have hepatitis C and how serious it is.

The doctor may also do a liver biopsy.
A biopsy (BYE-op-see) is a simple test. The doctor removes a tiny piece of your liver through a needle. The doctor checks the piece of liver for signs of hepatitis C and liver damage.

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How is hepatitis C treated?
 
Hepatitis C is treated through shots of medicine.

 
Hepatitis C is treated with a drug called peginterferon, usually in combination with the drug ribavirin.

You may need surgery if you have hepatitis C for many years. Over time, hepatitis C can cause your liver to stop working. If that happens, you will need a new liver. The surgery is called a liver transplant. It involves taking out the old, damaged liver and putting in a new, healthy one from a donor.



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How can I protect myself?
You can protect yourself and others from hepatitis C.
 
  If you inject drugs, use your own needles.
Don't share drug needles with anyone.


Wear gloves if you have to touch anyone's blood.


If you have several sex partners, use a condom during sex.


Don't use an infected person's toothbrush, razor, or anything else that could have blood on it.


If you get a tattoo or body piercing, make sure it is done with clean tools.


If you have hepatitis C, don't give your blood or plasma. The person who receives it could become infected with the virus.


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For More Information
You can also get information about hepatitis C from these groups:

American Liver Foundation (ALF)
75 Maiden Lane, Suite 603
New York, NY 10038-4810
24-hour helpline (7 days/week): 1-800-465-4837 or 1-888-443-7222
Phone: 1-800-676-9340 or (212) 668-1000
Fax: (212) 483-8179
Email: info@liverfoundation.org
Internet: www.liverfoundation.org

Hepatitis Foundation International (HFI)
504 Blick Drive
Silver Spring, MD 20904-2901
Phone: 1-800-891-0707 or (301) 622-4200
Fax: (301) 622-4702
Email: hfi@comcast.net
Internet: www.hepfi.org

There are other types of hepatitis. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse also has booklets about hepatitis A and hepatitis B:

What I need to know about Hepatitis A


What I need to know about Hepatitis B
You can get a free copy of each of these booklets by calling 1-800-891-5389 or (301) 654-3810, or by writing to

NDDIC
2 Information Way
Bethesda, MD 20892-3570
Hepatitis information for health professionals is also available.

 
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Acknowledgments
The individuals listed here provided editorial guidance or facilitated field testing for this publication. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse would like to thank them for their contribution.

Bruce Bacon, M.D.
Chair, Education Committee
American Liver Foundation
New York, NY

Luby Garza-Abijaoude, M.S., R.D., L.D.
Texas Department of Health
Austin, TX

Thelma Thiel, R.N., B.A.
Hepatitis Foundation International
Silver Spring, MD

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National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse
2 Information Way
Bethesda, MD 20892-3570
Email: nddic@info.niddk.nih.gov

The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) is a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). The NIDDK is part of the National Institutes of Health under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Established in 1980, the clearinghouse provides information about digestive diseases to people with digestive disorders and to their families, health care professionals, and the public. NDDIC answers inquiries, develops and distributes publications, and works closely with professional and patient organizations and Government agencies to coordinate resources about digestive diseases.

Publications produced by the clearinghouse are carefully reviewed by both NIDDK scientists and outside experts.

This e-text is not copyrighted. The clearinghouse encourages users of this e-pub to duplicate and distribute as many copies as desired.


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NIH Publication No. 04-4229
December 2003

http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/hepc_ez/index.htm

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