10 Surprising Facts About Hepatitis C

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Sarah Lewis, PharmD on May 9, 2021
  • interracial couple on park bench
    Hepatitis C is more common than HIV.
    You may be fairly familiar with the basics of HIV. Public health campaigns have done a great job educating the American public about HIV infection. But did you know that more Americans are living with hepatitis C? In fact, more than twice as many Americans are infected with hepatitis C compared to HIV. And among people who have HIV from using intravenous drugs, 50-90% also have hepatitis C.
  • serious woman on laptop
    You can get hepatitis C and not know it.
    When you get hepatitis C, it causes a short-term infection. For the minority symptoms are flu-like and tend to be mild (and overlooked). But about 80% of people never have symptoms. As a result, you can catch hepatitis C and not know it. And you can pass it to other people without realizing it. That’s why regular testing is important if you’re at risk. The main risk factor today is using IV drugs, but there are others. Talk with your doctor about your risks and get tested if you need it.
  • confident man
    Some people fight off the acute infection without treatment.
    About 15-25% of people with acute hepatitis C will clear the infection without treatment. These people will not progress to chronic hepatitis C and may never know they were sick. Health experts don’t fully understand how or why this happens. A specific gene—IL-28B—may play a role. People with a certain form of this gene have a greater chance of fighting off the initial infection. This gene may also influence treatment response to interferon.
  • mature woman
    You can have chronic hepatitis C for 15 years or longer without symptoms.
    Up to 85% of people who have acute hepatitis C progress to chronic hepatitis C. But you can have chronic hepatitis C for 15 years or longer before you realize you’re sick. During this time, you can spread the virus to others even though you don’t have symptoms. For many people, they learn they have hepatitis C when symptoms of liver problems develop. This can include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, appetite loss, and jaundice—yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes.
  • Liver Transplant
    Hepatitis C is the most common reason for liver transplants.
    Chronic hepatitis C eventually leads to liver damage. Without treatment, it can cause permanent injury. Some people go on to develop end-stage liver failure where the liver stops working. The only treatment for this is a liver transplant. And hepatitis C is the most common reason for liver transplantation in the United States. The good news is that most people do well with a new liver. But you may to need continue hepatitis C treatment after surgery.
  • Doctor explaining kidney function
    There are six different strains of hepatitis C.
    Not all hepatitis infections are the same. In fact, there are six different genotypes—or strains—of the hepatitis C virus. Genotype 1 is the most common strain in the United States. About 75% of Americans with hepatitis C have either subtype 1a or subtype 1b. Genotype 2 infects 20-25% of Americans, and the other genotypes account for a very small number of infections. Knowing your genotype is important because it guides treatment decisions. Your doctor will order a genotype test after diagnosis.
  • Pain Medication
    Newer hepatitis C treatments can cure hepatitis C.
    In the past, there were very few options for treating hepatitis C. The drugs were hard to tolerate and required months of therapy. Those drugs may still be the best choice for some people. But newer drugs are easier to take and more effective. In fact, more than 90% of people who take these new drug combinations achieve a sustained viral response (SVR). SVR is a virologic cure because it means tests can no longer detect hepatitis C virus six months after treatment ends.
  • Doctor testing Woman's Stomach
    You can get hepatitis C again.
    When you get hepatitis C, your body produces antibodies. It’s these antibodies that show up on a hepatitis C screening test. The presence of antibodies means you have been exposed to the virus. For many viruses, having antibodies means you’re immune to getting the infection again. Chickenpox is a good example. Unfortunately, hepatitis C antibodies don’t seem to protect you against future infections. So it is possible to treat and cure hepatitis C, and get the disease again.
  • Always looking on the bright side
    You can protect yourself against hepatitis C.
    Unlike hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. But there are steps you can take to protect yourself from infection or re-infection. They all involve avoiding contact with infected blood. If you use drugs, get yourself into a treatment program. If you continue to use, never share or reuse needles or other equipment. Make sure piercing and tattooing equipment is sterile. Always use condoms. And avoid sharing razors and other personal items with someone who has hepatitis C.
  • Businessman sitting at desk
    Federal law protects your rights if you have hepatitis C.
    The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of workers with disabilities. It applies to people who wish to continue working. Many people with hepatitis C continue working without problems, even while on treatment. But if you find you need to adjust your work schedule or responsibilities, you’ll need to speak with human resources about your diagnosis. This is a personal decision you need to weigh carefully. A support group can offer valuable guidance in this area.
10 Surprising Facts About Hepatitis C

About The Author

Sarah Lewis is a pharmacist and a medical writer with over 25 years of experience in various areas of pharmacy practice. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy degree from West Virginia University and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. She completed Pharmacy Practice Residency training at the University of Pittsburgh/VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. 
  1. Acute Hepatitis C Discussion. University of Washington. http://depts.washington.edu/hepstudy/hepC/clindx/acute/discussion.html
  2. Hepatitis C. American Academy of Family Physicians. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/hepatitis-c.html
  3. Can Hepatitis C Be Cured? American Liver Foundation. http://hepc.liverfoundation.org/diagnosis/can-hepatitis-c-be-cured/
  4. How Can I Prevent Getting Hepatitis C? American Liver Foundation. http://hepc.liverfoundation.org/diagnosis/prevention/
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  6. Can I Work While On Treatment? American Liver Foundation http://hepc.liverfoundation.org/treatment/while-on-treatment/working-while-on-treatment/
  7. What Can Happen – Complications of Chronic Hepatitis C. American Liver Foundation. http://hepc.liverfoundation.org/what-is-hepatitis-c/what-can-happen-complications-of-hep-c/
  8. Hepatitis C FAQs for the Public. Centers for Disease Control. http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/c/cfaq.htm
  9. American with Disabilities Act: What It Does and Doesn't Do. Hepatitis C Support Project. http://www.hcvadvocate.org/hepatitis/factsheets_pdf/ADA.pdf
  10. Initial Treatment of HCV Infection. American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases and Infectious Diseases Society of America. http://www.hcvguidelines.org/full-report/initial-treatment-hcv-infection
  11. Monitoring Patients. American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases and Infectious Diseases Society of America. http://www.hcvguidelines.org/full-report/monitoring-patients-who-are-starting-hepatitis-c-treatment-...
  12. When and in Whom to Initiate HCV Therapy. American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases and Infectious Diseases Society of America. http://www.hcvguidelines.org/full-report/when-and-whom-initiate-hcv-therapy
  13. FAQ: Can I Get Re-infected with Hepatitis C? U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. http://www.hepatitis.va.gov/patient/faqs/reinfection.asp
  14. FAQ: What Is the Survival Rater After Liver Transplantation. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. http://www.hepatitis.va.gov/patient/faqs/transplant-survival-rates.asp
  15. Hepatitis C Genotypes and Quasispecies. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. http://www.hepatitis.va.gov/provider/reviews/genotypes.asp
  16. Initial Evaluation of Persons with Chronic Hepatitis C. Hepatitis C Online. http://www.hepatitisc.uw.edu/go/evaluation-staging-monitoring/initial-evaluation-chronic/core-concep...
  17. What I Need to Know About Hepatitis C. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/liver-disease/hepatitis-c/Pages/ez.aspx
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Last Review Date: 2021 May 9
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