Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is an infectious disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). In the United States, it is the most common blood-borne infection, impacting around 2.4 million Americans, or roughly 1% of the adult population. Hepatitis C is typically spread through contact with infected blood or passed from mother to child during pregnancy. The virus can spontaneously clear in some people, become a persistent infection in others, and advance to a life-threatening illness in others.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you get hepatitis C?

    You get hepatitis C by coming into direct contact with an infected person’s blood or bodily fluids that contain blood. Sharing drug-injection equipment is the cause of most hepatitis C infections in the United States. Hepatitis C can also be spread from mother to child during pregnancy.

  • Is hepatitis C curable?

    Yes. The virus is considered cured when, 12 weeks after completing treatment, the hepatitis C RNA (viral) level is undetectable. This lack of detectable virus is known as a sustained virologic response (SVR).

  • How is hepatitis C transmitted?

    Injection-drug use and being born to a mother with hepatitis C are the most common modes of transmission. Less commonly, hepatitis C can be transmitted through sexual activity, sharing personal items (e.g., razors or toothbrushes) that contain contaminated blood, needle-stick injuries in health-care settings, blood transfusions, and tattoo and body piercings with unsterile needles.

  • Is hepatitis C contagious?

    Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that can spread through direct contact with an infected person’s blood; however, it’s not contagious like the common cold or flu. You cannot contract hepatitis C from coughing, sneezing, sharing utensils, kissing, hugging, holding hands, or breastfeeding.

  • Is there a vaccine for hepatitis C?

    Unfortunately, there is no vaccine yet for hepatitis C. The best way to prevent becoming infected with the virus is by not engaging in behaviors that may transmit the disease, especially injecting drugs.

  • Can you get hepatitis C from sex?

    Hepatitis C can spread through sex, but it is not considered to be a major mode of transmission. A person's risk for contracting hepatitis C from sex is increased if they have multiple partners, engage in anal sex, and/or have a sexually transmitted infection.

How Hepatitis C Affects the Liver

Explore interactive models that show how the hepatitis C virus (HCV) infects hepatocytes (liver cells), causing inflammation and scarring of the liver over time.

Key Terms

Page Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis C prevalence estimates 2013-2016. Updated November 6th, 2018.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis C questions and answers for health professionals. Updated July 2, 2019.

  3. Callendret B, Walker CM. Will there be a vaccine to protect against the hepatitis C virus? Gastroenterology. 2012;142(6):1384–1387. doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2012.02.010

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexual transmission and viral hepatitis. Updated September 21, 2020.

  5. Talwani R, Gilliam B, Howell C. Infectious Diseases and the Liver. Clin Liver Dis. 2011;15(1):111-130. doi:10.1016/j.cld.2010.09.002

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What is Viral Hepatitis? Reviewed July 28th, 2020.

Additional Reading