Hepatitis C | Liver Disease

Liver Disease

Hepatitis C

Untreated hepatitis C can cause liver scarring (cirrhosis) and liver failure. In rare instances, you may need a liver transplant. Our liver disease team provides a full range of services for people with hepatitis C.

Medically reviewed by Eric Chak, M.D. on Nov. 09, 2023.

Female health care provider explaining paperwork to a patient

Complete Care for Hepatitis C

Liver specialists (hepatologists) at the UC Davis Health Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology expertly diagnose and treat hepatitis C. Our providers protect your liver health and stop the spread of this infectious disease.


What Is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a liver infection that spreads through infected blood. This liver disease is on the rise in America due to an increase in substance use disorders and the sharing of contaminated needles.

A type of viral hepatitis, hepatitis C causes liver damage, cirrhosis (liver scarring) and liver cancer. It’s one of the main reasons for liver transplants in the U.S.

Hepatitis C may be:

  • Acute: Signs of infection develop within six months of exposure and often improve with treatment.
  • Chronic: More than half of those infected develop a lifelong (chronic) infection that causes liver damage.

Quick treatment of hepatitis C is critical. Among people who take hepatitis C medications (called antivirals), more than 9 in 10  are cured.


Hepatitis C Symptoms

Hepatitis C doesn’t always cause symptoms. It’s called a “silent epidemic” because many people have the condition for years before they show signs of liver damage. During this time, they may unknowingly infect others. Acute symptoms typically appear within 2 to 12 weeks of infection.

Common Symptoms

Hepatitis C symptoms may be mild or severe. They include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark, tea-colored urine
  • Fatigue and fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mild nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Pale stools
  • Yellow tint to the eyes and skin (jaundice)

Emergency Symptoms

In rare instances, hepatitis C causes a condition called fulminant hepatitis and sudden liver failure. You should seek immediate care if you experience these signs:

  • Bleeding and bruising without much cause
  • Extreme nausea and vomiting
  • Unexplained, severe abdominal bloating

Hepatitis C Causes and Risk Factors

The hepatitis C virus causes a type of viral infection called hepatitis C. Hepatitis C spreads through contact with infected blood and sexual fluids. You can’t get hepatitis C from kissing or sharing eating utensils. It doesn’t spread through saliva.

Certain factors increase your risk of hepatitis C, including:

Contaminated Needles

Healthcare workers who experience accidental needle sticks are at high risk. People with substance use disorders who share needles are also a high-risk population.

Blood Transfusions

People who received blood transfusions before 1992 – when widespread screening for the virus went into effect – may be at risk. Thanks to improved screenings, there’s little risk of getting hepatitis C from a blood transfusion today.

Pregnancy and Childbirth

If a pregnant person has hepatitis C, their baby can become infected while in the womb or during childbirth.

Sharing Personal Hygiene Items

Your risk increases if you share a razor, toothbrush or nail clippers with someone who is infected.

Unprotected Sex

Having unprotected sex, especially with multiple partners, puts you at risk. The infection risk is higher for men who have sex with men, as well as people who have sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Unsterilized Equipment

Hepatitis C virus can spread through unsterilized equipment. This includes contaminated acupuncture, tattoo and piercing needles, medical devices and nail salon tools.


Hepatitis C Diagnosis and Testing

Your provider can recommend tests to diagnose hepatitis C. These tests may include:

  • Hepatitis C antibody test: This blood test checks for antibodies (proteins) that indicate a past or current hepatitis C infection.
  • Hepatitis C RNA test: This blood test shows if the infection is active in your body.
  • Liver tests: Blood tests and diagnostic medical imaging tests assess liver function and damage.

Hepatitis C Treatments

Hepatitis C requires treatment even if you don’t have symptoms. These treatments help protect your liver from damage.

Antiviral Medications

Daily antiviral medications taken for 8 to 12 weeks cure the disease in most people. This treatment is most effective for acute (newer) infections. But they’re also very effective if you have chronic hepatitis C.

Lifestyle Changes

You shouldn’t drink alcohol because it can cause additional liver scarring and damage. You should also check with your provider before taking any over-the-counter medications or supplements, which could affect your liver.

Liver Transplant

You may need a liver transplant if chronic hepatitis C causes significant liver scarring (cirrhosis) or liver failure. At UC Davis Health, we’re experts at liver transplant surgeries.


Preventing Hepatitis C

Certain types of viral hepatitis, such as hepatitis A and hepatitis B, have vaccines to protect against the virus. While there isn’t a hepatitis C vaccine, these steps can prevent an infection.

Don’t Share Personal Items

Don’t share personal hygiene items like toothbrushes, nail clippers and razors.

Look for Licensed Facilities

Go to licensed facilities for tattoos, piercings and nail work. These regulated facilities must adhere to sterilization requirements.

Protect Yourself

Wear latex or rubber gloves if you have direct contact with another person’s blood. Wear condoms during sex.

“Hepatitis C Basic Information,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://www.hhs.gov/hepatitis/learn-about-viral-hepatitis/hepatitis-c-basics/index.html

“Hepatitis C Questions and Answers for the Public,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/cfaq.htm#overview

“Hepatitis C Information Center,”American Liver Foundation,  https://liverfoundation.org/liver-diseases/viral-hepatitis/hepatitis-c/

Who does it affect?

2.5MAmericans have chronic hepatitis C

Annual deaths

15K+Americans die from hepatitis C and related complications

Sources: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Hepatitis C Basic Information

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Hepatitis C Questions and Answers for the Public

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