What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus.
There are different hepatitis viruses that affect the liver. The three types that are common in Canada are hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C
How is hepatitis C is transmitted?
- Hepatitis C is transmitted through blood to blood contact only (especially shared drug-use equipment)
- Once inside the bloodstream it infects the liver and causes damage to this very important organ
- People can become very sick
- For some people who get hepatitis C, the virus goes away on its own within the first six months after infection
- For most people, hepatitis C will not go away on its own, but there is treatment that can clear (get rid of) the virus from the body
- Even people who get hepatitis C and who manage to get rid of the virus may contract again
- Most people do not show any signs or symptoms until many years after getting hepatitis C
- The only way to really know is to get tested
How can blood-to-blood contact happen?
Hepatitis C is a strong virus and can live outside of the body for many days. This means that dried blood can also pass the virus. Cleaning an object with products like soap, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, bleach etc. is not sufficient to eliminate the virus.
These are some of the ways hepatitis C can get inside the body:
- Using drug equipment that has been used by someone else, such as needles, syringes, filters, cookers, acidifiers, alcohol swabs, tourniquets, water, pipes for smoking crack or crystal meth, and straws for snorting.
- Getting a blood transfusion or an organ transplant that has not been screened for hepatitis C. In Canada, the screening of donated blood and organs for hepatitis C started in 1990. In some other countries, blood wasn’t screened for hepatitis C until more recently.
- Re-using tools for activities that break the skin, such as tattooing, body piercing, acupuncture and electrolysis. In tattooing, reusing needles as well as ink and ink pots can spread hepatitis C.
- Re-using medical equipment that should only be used once, such as needles for vaccines. Medical equipment that has been used with other people and not cleaned properly before being used again can also spread hepatitis C.
- Sharing or borrowing personal items that might have blood on them, such as razors, nail clippers, toothbrushes and earrings.
- During pregnancy or childbirth. A woman who has hepatitis C can pass the virus to her baby during pregnancy or childbirth.
- Having unprotected sex where blood could be present. For example, during anal sex, rough sex, sex during a woman’s period or when one person has open sores.