- Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that affects your liver.
- There is now a cure for hepatitis C that works really well.
- Without medicine to treat it, hepatitis C can cause liver disease and liver cancer.
Hepatitis C is a virus that causes damage to your liver. It can be chronic, which means you could have it your whole life if you don’t get cured. Other names for it are hep C or HCV. You can get blood tests to see if you have the virus. You can learn more about testing for hepatitis C here.
How do you get hepatitis C?
You can get hepatitis C if your blood comes into contact with infected blood. Some of the ways this can happen are:
- sharing needles, syringes or other injecting equipment, including spoons
- tattooing or body piercing with unsterile equipment
- medical procedures with unsterile equipment
- sharing toothbrushes, razors or nail files.
If you have hepatitis C when you are pregnant, there is about a 5% chance that you will pass on the virus to your baby. If you are pregnant and have hepatitis C, you should talk to your doctor. If you are thinking about getting pregnant and have hepatitis C, talk to your doctor about curing hepatitis C first.
We don't know if it is safe to take medicine for hepatitis C while you are pregnant. The medicine may harm the baby. So you can't take these medicines while you're pregnant. But you can use them after your baby is born and you have finished breastfeeding. If you have hepatitis C, your baby will have a blood test to check if they also have it.
You cannot get hepatitis C from casual contact
You cannot get hepatitis C from:
- hugging or kissing
- sharing food and eating utensils
- eating food made by someone with hepatitis C
- insect or animal bites, eg. mosquitoes
- sharing a bathroom, shower or toilet
- sneezing or coughing.
What happens if you get hepatitis C?
If you get hepatitis C, your body will try to fight the virus. You could get an acute or chronic illness.
Acute hepatitis C means the virus might make you sick for a short time but then you get better. Less than 10 in 100 people will have any signs or feel unwell. About 25 in 100 people naturally get rid of the virus. You get chronic hepatitis C if the virus stays in your liver for more than six months.
- Chronic hepatitis C means the virus stays in your liver for your whole life unless you take medicine for it. You may not feel sick, but over time it could damage your liver. If your liver gets too damaged, it won't work properly. Over many years, liver damage can lead to cirrhosis (severe liver scarring), liver failure or liver cancer. The impact on your health will depend on:
- the age you were when you got the virus
- how much alcohol you drink
- if you have another illness or health issue
Some people have hepatitis C and other viruses at the same time (such as HIV or hepatitis B). If you do, you're more likely to have a serious long-term illness. It's important to make sure you see your doctor often.
A cure for hepatitis C
The latest hepatitis C medicines are simple, safe, and work really well. They work nearly every time. You should speak to your doctor about being cured of hepatitis C. The main options are direct-acting antiviral (DDA) medicines.
To find out more about hepatitis C, you can contact the National Hepatitis Infoline on 1800 437 222.
What is hepatitis C. All Good, ASHM
Management of Hepatitis B in pregnancy, RANZCOG
Testing for Hep c, ASHM
Hepatitis C liver damage progression, The Hepatitis C Trust
Fibrosis progression in chronic hepatitis C virus infection, G W McCaughan, J George, DOI 10.1136/gut.2003.026393
Hepatitis C. World Health Organization
Page updated 10 November 2022