Hepatitis C

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Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV).

This virus spreads through contact with the blood of an infected person. A woman with hepatitis can pass the virus on to her baby during birth. The hepatitis C virus is not spread through food or water.

Treating Hepatitis C

Due to recent advances in anti-viral medications, the cure rate is now between 90% and 95%. These more effective medicines have fewer side effects and can be taken orally for a shorter period — between 12 and 24 months, depending on the severity of disease or the specific type of hepatitis C. Once the body is free of infection, doctors can focus on managing any effects of liver damage acquired as a result of the disease.

Liver Transplant: A Viable Option

Chronic hepatitis C can cause cirrhosis and serious liver damage. In severe cases, a liver transplant may offer the only option for a patient to achieve good health. 

Contrary to common belief, hepatitis C patients can not only receive donated organs, but they often receive organs sooner because the pool of eligible recipients is smaller. 

If a recipient's donated liver tests positive for hep C, we treat the recipient and the new organ after the transplant with antiviral medications.

Learn more about liver transplant at UVA.

Are You at Risk for Hep C?

Factors that increase your chance of this infection:

  • Injecting illicit drugs, especially with shared needles
  • Receiving a blood transfusion before 1992 — this risk is very low in the United States.
  • Receiving blood clotting products before 1987
  • Receiving an HCV-infected organ transplant
  • Long-term kidney dialysis treatment
  • Sharing toothbrushes, razors, nail clippers or other personal hygiene items that have HCV-infected blood on them
  • Being accidentally stuck by an HCV-infected needle — a concern for healthcare workers
  • Frequent contact with HCV-infected people — a concern for healthcare workers
  • Tattooing
  • Body piercing
  • Having sex with partners who have hepatitis C or other sexually transmitted diseases — most common in men who have sex with men

Symptoms of Hep C

80% of people with hepatitis C have no symptoms. Over time, if left untreated, the disease can cause serious liver damage.

When present, symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
  • Darker colored urine
  • Loose, light, or chalky colored stools
  • Abdominal pain
  • Aches and pains
  • Itching
  • Hives
  • Joint pain
  • Cigarette smokers may suddenly dislike the taste of cigarettes
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Chronic hepatitis C may cause some of the above symptoms, as well as:

  • Weakness
  • Severe fatigue
  • Loss of appetite

Serious complications of hepatitis C include:

  • Chronic infection that will lead to cirrhosis (scarring) and progressive liver failure
  • Increased risk of liver cancer


Early diagnosis of hep C can prove critical for preventing longterm damage. Tests for hep C may include:

  • Blood tests 
  • Liver function studies 
  • Ultrasound of the liver 
  • Liver biopsy 


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.