Hep C (Hepatitis C)

Hep C (Hepatitis C) is a contagious, viral liver disease. Early diagnosis and treatment of Hepatitis C can help prevent complications such as liver cancer and cirrhosis (scarring of the liver).

Hepatitis C can be either acute or chronic.

Acute HCV infection is a short-term illness that occurs within the first six months after someone has been exposed to HCV. Most people with acute HCV infection get chronic HCV infection.

Chronic HCV infection is a long-term illness that occurs when HCV stays in a person's body. HCV infection can last a lifetime and lead to serious liver problems, including chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, or liver cancer.

At-Risk Populations

  • Baby Boomers (people born in the United States between 1945 and 1965) are five times more likely than others to be infected with HCV. Most Baby Boomers were probably infected in the 1970s and 1980s when rates of HCV were highest. Many could have become infected from contaminated blood and blood products before widespread screening of the blood supply began in 1992 or before universal precautions were adopted in healthcare. (More from CDC about why Baby Boomers should get tested)
  • People who have ever injected drugs can spread HCV by sharing needles or works (drug preparation equipment) that are contaminated with infected blood. This includes people who have only injected once or a few times many years ago.
  • People who snort cocaine can spread HCV by sharing contaminated straws or other equipment used for snorting. This includes people who have only snorted once or a few times many years ago.
  • People living with HIV
  • Blood transfusion or solid organ transplant recipients who received a transfusion or transplant before July 1992
  • Hemodialysis patients
  • Anyone with signs or symptoms of liver disease
  • Children born to women with HCV
  • People who use steroids or people who get piercings and tattoos with needles that were reused
  • People born in countries where a large proportion of the population has HCV
  • People who received a blood product (for clotting problems) made before 1987


Most people who are infected with HCV have no symptoms; however, they can still infect other people. Individuals that are infected with HCV and become ill may have symptoms including loss of appetite, abdominal discomfort, joint pain, nausea, vomiting, yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), dark urine, clay-colored stool, fever, or fatigue. Symptoms can be mild to severe.

People infected with HCV often have no symptoms and can live with an infection for decades without feeling sick.

How It Spreads

  • HCV is spread by coming in contact with the blood of someone else who is infected. People with HCV can spread it even if they have no symptoms.
  • People can be infected with HCV by sharing needles, syringes, or other equipment used to inject drugs; from needle-stick injuries; or being born to a HCV-positive mother. It can also be spread through sex or by sharing personal-care items.
  • HCV is NOT spread by casual contact or in typical school, office, or food-service settings. It is not spread by coughing, sneezing, hugging, holding hands, drinking out of the same glass, or sharing food.


  • Do not inject or snort drugs. If you do use drugs, stop and get into a treatment program. Do not reuse or share needles, water, straws/bills, or works.(more)
  • Do not share toothbrushes, razors, or other personal-care items. There may be blood on these items that contains HCV that you cannot see and could make you sick.
  • If you are a healthcare or public safety worker, always follow universal precautions and safely handle needles and other sharps.(more)
  • If you are thinking about getting a tattoo or body piercing, go to a licensed body piercer or tattoo artist. Be sure that they do not reuse needles or inks.
  • Use a condom every time you have sex.(more)

If you are infected with the HCV:

  • Do not donate your blood, body organs, tissue, or sperm.
  • Do not share toothbrushes, razors, or other personal-care items that might have contaminated blood on them.
  • Cover your cuts and open sores.
  • Do not inject or snort drugs. (more)
  • Use a condom every time you have sex. (more)
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about your sex partner getting tested for HCV.
  • Get hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccinations to protect your liver from these infections.
  • Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages.

Testing & Diagnosis

Contact your primary care physician or go to a state-funded HCV testing site for a rapid HCV test. If the results of your rapid HCV test are positive, you will need to go to a primary care physician to get a confirmatory HCV blood test.


There are prescription medications to treat hepatitis C. Talk to your healthcare provider about which medication is best for you. There are no vaccines to protect people from HCV.