“Hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver. Toxins, certain drugs, some diseases, heavy alcohol use, and bacterial and viral infections can all cause hepatitis. Hepatitis is also the name of a family of viral infections that affect the liver; the most common types are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C is blood-borne infection that ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness that attacks the liver.
An estimated 3.2 million persons in the United States have chronic Hepatitis C virus infection. Most people do not know they are infected because they don’t look or feel sick.
How is Hepatitis C passed?
Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. Today, most people become infected with the Hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. Before 1992, when widespread screening of the blood supply began in the United States, Hepatitis C was also commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants.
People can become infected with the Hepatitis C virus through:
- Sharing needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject drugs, hormones or vitamins
- Accidental needlestick injuries in health care settings
- Being born to a mother who has Hepatitis C
Approximately 75%–85% of people who become infected with Hepatitis C virus develop chronic infection.
Is Hepatitis C spread within a household?
Less commonly, Hepatitis C can be passed through sharing personal care items that may have come in contact with another person’s blood, such as razors or toothbrushes. If Hepatitis C virus is spread within a household, it is most likely a result of direct, through-the-skin exposure to the blood of an infected household member.
Is Hepatitis C passed through sexual contact?
The risk of transmission from sexual contact is believed to be low. The risk increases for those who have multiple sex partners, have a sexually transmitted disease, engage in rough sex, or are infected with HIV. More research is needed to better understand how and when Hepatitis C can be spread through sexual contact.
Can you get Hepatitis C by getting a tattoo or piercing?
A few major research studies have not shown Hepatitis C to be spread through licensed, commercial tattooing facilities. However, transmission of Hepatitis C (and other infectious diseases) is possible when poor infection-control practices are used during tattooing or piercing. Body art is becoming increasingly popular in the United States, and unregulated tattooing and piercing are known to occur in prisons and other informal or unregulated settings. Further research is needed to determine if these types of settings and exposures are responsible for Hepatitis C virus transmission.