C virus (HCV; Non-A, Non-B Hepatitis)
C virus is one of the viruses that causes hepatitis, or
inflammation of the liver. It is spread predominantly
by contact with infected blood and much less commonly, body
fluids (sperm, vaginal secretions, pus, saliva, etc.) Risk
factors for having HCV include those who have used IV drugs
(e.g., those who have shared needles), those who have received
a blood transfusion prior to 1991, those who have snorted
cocaine*, and those who have been tattooed.
HBV, sexual transmission of HCV is very uncommon and is
estimated to occur in less than 5% of those in monogamous
relationships. That said, the risk of HCV is increased in
those having multiple sexual partners and unprotected intercourse.
There seems to be no increased risk of HCV in men who have
sex with men. Therefore, while using a condom if having
sexual relations is just plain smart, in terms of HCV infection,
avoidance of exposure to infected blood (e.g., avoid sharing
razor blades, toothbrushes, and bloody needles) is the most
important method in avoiding infection.
Signs & Symptoms
C virus is one of many causes of swelling of the liver (hepatitis).
The liver plays a crucial role in cleaning the blood and
metabolizing different substances we ingest. When
the liver isn't working correctly, "poisons" build up in
the blood. In addition, the liver makes bile, and
if it isn't released correctly, it builds up in the body
causing a yellowing of the skin and eyes (called jaundice
and icterus, respectively). People first infected
with HCV commonly get mild flu-like symptoms with aches,
fever, and chills. Following this flu-like illness, however,
symptoms generally resolve for more than 2 decades!
Though a number of people infected with Hepatitis C go on
to remission, a much larger portion of infected individuals
will have worsening liver disease and will get sicker years
later. Those who are chronically infected are at a high
risk of developing total liver failure (cirrhosis) and liver
cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma), both of which can lead
Diagnosis is made by a blood test. Because people infected
generally have NO SYMPTOMS for 20 or more years following
infection, it is important to get a screening blood test
if you have any risk factors for HCV infection. You should
be tested specifically for the presence of HCV antibody
if you have used IV drugs, received a blood transfusion
prior to 1991, snorted cocaine, been tattooed, or had multiple
sexual partners. While it is reasonable for the spouse or
sexual partner of an HCV-infected person to be tested, other
household members or coworkers do not have an increased
risk of catching HCV. (Screening liver function tests are
not adequate to test for this disease as they are commonly
normal in infected individuals. A HCV antibody test is the
recommended blood test.)
Exciting new treatments have recently been developed which
can markedly improve the disease, and perhaps even cure,
some people with Hepatitis C Virus. A combination of interferon
and ribavirin (Rebetol) has been shown to be quite effective
in a number of recent studies. Despite these recent successes,
prevention of this disease is much preferred by avoiding
do I avoid Getting It (Prevention)?
Avoiding the risk behaviors mentioned previously is important
(e.g., snorting cocaine, using IV drugs, and having unsafe
sex with multiple partners).
Get additional information on this and other diseases by
relatively low risk, those who have snorted cocaine do have
a somewhat higher risk of being infected with HCV than those
who have never snorted cocaine, and should therefore have
an HCV antibody test as a screening measure.