Hepatitis C is passed through blood. People get it mainly through sharing needles when injecting drugs and by accidently sticking themselves with a dirty needle. Blood could not be tested for Hepatitis C before 1992. Before then, many people got Hepatitis C through blood transfusions. Now that the blood is tested, the risk of getting Hepatitis C from a blood transfusion is 1 in 2 million.
In the past, factor concentrates also spread Hepatitis C. Most people who used factor VIII before 1987 or factor IX before 1990 got the Hepatitis C virus. Anyone who got a blood transfusion or who used factor before these dates should be tested for Hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C is rarely passed through sex. You can't get it from eating food or drinking water.
In 1996, a woman with Hepatitis C is believed to have passed the virus to her son with hemophilia. She did not wear gloves when giving her son factor. She accidently pricked herself with the butterfly needle before sticking her son. We think that Hepatitis C in her blood got on the needle and then went into her son. Everyone helping with a factor infusion should wear gloves. Needles that have broken the skin should be put in a sharps disposal container and not used.
People seldom get sick when the Hepatitis C virus first gets in their bodies. They may have symptoms like those for Hepatitis B. Often they have no symptoms. Most of the people who get the Hepatitis C virus become carriers. The virus stays in their bodies and slowly damages their livers.
When the virus damages the liver, it can cause scarring, called cirrhosis. A liver with cirrhosis does not work as well. It can also get liver cancer. The main reason people get liver transplants is to replace a liver that has been destroyed by Hepatitis C.
There is no vaccine (shot) to prevent Hepatitis C. There are medicines you can take to try and get the Hepatitis C out of your body. A person with Hepatitis C should stay in close touch with his or her doctor. The doctor can do tests to watch for damage to the liver. The doctor can also tell you which medicines might work for you.