What Is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes inflammation and damage in the liver. The hepatitis C virus is spread by contact with an infected person’s blood.

In the United States, hepatitis C is the most common chronic viral infection spread through infected blood. Current estimates are anywhere from 2.7 million to 3.9 million Americans have hepatitis C. The majority of adults with hepatitis are Baby Boomers, but there is an increasing number of people under age 30 who are getting the virus by sharing needles when injecting heroine and opioids.

The greatest risk of getting hepatitis C belongs to people who:

  • Are born to mothers with the infection
  • Work with human blood, body fluids, or needles
  • Have a blood-clotting disorder and received clotting factors before 1987
  • Have kidney failure and get dialysis treatment
  • Had blood transfusions or organ transplants before the early 1990s
  • Use IV or intravenous drugs
  • Have tattoos or body piercings
  • Have unprotected sex
  • Are HIV-positive

Hepatitis C has two forms:

  • Acute hepatitis C: This is the name for a new infection that can last up to six months. Sometimes the immune system can fight the infection and it goes away.
  • Chronic hepatitis C: This is the name for a long-term infection that doesn’t go away. Up to 85 percent of people with acute hepatitis C will develop chronic hepatitis C. Without treatment, people with hepatitis C may develop chronic liver disease, liver failure, cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Chronic hepatitis C is the most common reason for getting a liver transplant.