Hepatitis C – a contagious liver disease – affects an estimated 3.5 million people in the United States. The disease can either be mild, lasting only a few weeks, or a serious, lifelong illness. Hepatitis C is the most common hepatitis virus in the U.S. Some statistics are outlined below:
- Hepatitis A: 2,500 new infections a year
- Hepatitis B: 19,200 new infections a year
- Hepatitis C: 30,500 new infections a year
Who can get hepatitis C?Anyone can get hepatitis C, but high-risk people are those who:
- Were born to a mother with hepatitis C.
- Are in contact with blood or infected needles at work.
- Have had more than one sex partner in the last six months or have a history of sexually transmitted infections.
- Are on kidney dialysis.
- Are infected with HIV.
- Have injected illegal drugs.
- Have had tattoos or body piercings.
- Had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992.
- Have hemophilia and received clotting factor before 1987.
Did You Know? About 75%-85% of newly infected people develop chronic hepatitis C infection.
How do you get hepatitis C?Transmission can happen through contact with the blood of an infected person primarily through:
- Sharing of contaminated needles, syringes or other drug injection equipment.
- Sexual contact with an infected person.
- Birth to an infected mother.
- Needlestick or other sharp instrument injuries.
About 60%-70% of people with chronic hepatitis C eventually develop chronic liver disease.
Reduce Your RiskThere is no vaccine against hepatitis C, but there are ways to make infection with the virus less likely:
- Don’t share objects that might contain blood, such as razors and toothbrushes.
- Injection drug users should never share syringes, needles or other equipment.
- Don’t donate blood or organs if you are infected.
- Hepatitis C is not commonly spread through sexual contact.
Although there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, vaccines do exist for prevention against hepatitis A and B.