NHS Choices

Learn more about hepatitis c

What is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a virus that can damage the liver. Unlike hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine to protect against hepatitis C infection, but effective treatment is available.

How could I get hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is carried in the blood. The virus is mainly spread through contact with the blood of a person who has hepatitis C. You can’t catch it through everyday contact such as holding hands or hugging and kissing, or through sharing toilets, plates, cups or kitchen utensils. Hepatitis C can be passed on in a number of ways:
  • During medical and dental treatment abroad in countries where hepatitis C is common and where infection control measures may not be effective. (This includes having blood transfusions, blood products, or organ or tissue transplants where the donors or donations have not been screened for hepatitis C).
  • By having a tattoo, an ear piercing, a body piercing or acupuncture with equipment that is not sterile.
  • By sharing razors, toothbrushes or needles and syringes which have been contaminated with blood from someone who has the virus.
  • From a mother with hepatitis C to her baby, before or during the birth.
  • Through a blood transfusion (before September 1991) or blood products like clotting factors (before 1986) in the UK. All blood in the UK is now screened for hepatitis C.
  • Through unprotected sex (without a condom) with someone who has the virus.
  • By sharing equipment for injecting drugs, even if you only did this once or twice a long time ago.
See your doctor or nurse if you think you could have been in contact with the virus in any of these ways.

What are the symptoms?

Most people who have hepatitis C virus have no signs or symptoms at all for many years. But even if you have no symptoms, you may still be developing liver damage and can still pass the virus onto others.

How might the virus affect me in the long term?

Around one in four people who become infected with the hepatitis C will get rid of the virus naturally. However, most people who become infected will have the virus for a long time. People with long-term infection are at risk of developing severe liver damage (cirrhosis) after many years. Cirrhosis can lead to liver cancer or liver failure. There is effective treatment available that can prevent this.

How do I know if I have the virus?

If you think you could have been in contact with the hepatitis C virus at any time in the past, you can ask your GP for a test to find out if you have been infected.

Where can I get a test?

Your doctor or nurse will be able to test you for hepatitis C.

Is there a vaccine for hepatitis C?

No, at present there is no vaccine to prevent you becoming infected with hepatitis C. There are vaccines to protect against hepatitis A and B.

Is treatment available?

A form of drug therapy is available that is effective, on average, in more than half of people treated. Success rates are higher with some types of the virus. Your doctor and specialist will discuss with you whether treatment is appropriate.
What is Hepatitis c? How could Hepatitis c spread?
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