Hepatitis C guide

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is inflammation of the liver and it's caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Chronic hepatitis C is also the most common chronic liver disease in the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 3.2 million people in the United States are chronically infected and there are some 17,000 new cases of HCV infection every year.

Hepatitis C is primarily transmitted through direct contact with the blood of an infected person (e.g., blood transfusions). The virus can also be spread by sharing needles, syringes, razorblades or toothbrushes that are contaminated. Additionally, infected mothers run the risk of passing hepatitis C to their babies during during childbirth...in rare cases, the virus can also be transmitted through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex when the blood, saliva, semen or vaginal secretions of an infected partner enter the body.

While hepatitis C is not curable and there's no vaccine for it, sometimes it clears out of the body without treatment. Antiviral medications can help mitigate the effects of chronic hepatitis C infection, but chronic cases can result in severe liver damage (cirrhosis), liver cancer...even death. Learn more about the difference between acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) hepatitis C infections.

The earlier hepatitis C is diagnosed, the more successfully it can be treated.


Last reviewed by Lisa Oldson, MD, January 2011.

Lisa Oldson, MD

STD expert

"The first thing I tell a patient about STDs is that if you're worried about one STD, you should probably worry about all STDs. In other words, if you had unprotected sex and you're worried about a possible HIV exposure, it's important to understand that hepatitis can be spread in the same fashion...ditto for chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes and syphilis."

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