Hepatitis C is a serious liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus. It’s usually transferred through coming into contact with the blood of someone who has hepatitis C.
What causes hepatitis C?
Most people with hepatitis C are infected through the transfer of blood from someone with the virus – even microscopic amounts of blood can transfer the virus. In Australia, it’s estimated about 80% of new cases of hepatitis C result from unsafe injecting of drugs. In about 6% of cases, a pregnant mother can transfer the virus to her baby, especially if she also has HIV. Breastfeeding is usually safe for mothers who have hepatitis C.
You’re at greater risk of being infected with hepatitis C if you have:
- ever used intravenous drugs
- had a needle stick or other injury
- had a tattoo or piercing in a facility with poor hygiene
- received a blood transfusion in Australia before 1990, or in a country with a high rate of hepatitis C
- spent a long time on dialysis
- have HIV
- had sex with someone with hepatitis C
Hepatitis C symptoms
Most people with acute hepatitis C don’t have any symptoms. However, you may experience:
- nausea or vomiting
- loss of appetite
- abdominal pain
- joint pain
- dark urine
- clay-colored bowel movements (poo)
- jaundice – a yellowing of the skin and eyes
Symptoms usually appear six or seven weeks after exposure to the virus.
Diagnosis of hepatitis C
You should see a doctor if you think you might have hepatitis C. Blood tests can show if you have a current infection.
Treatment of hepatitis C
There are very good options for curing hepatitis C. The treatments are listed on the Medicare PBS (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme) which makes them available at much lower cost.
The new cures are different to the previous treatments:
- they cure around 95%, or more, of people who take them (even if you have cirrhosis)
- they have minimal side-effects
- they last for just 12 weeks (in most cases)
- they involve just a few pills each day (with no injections)
Curing your hepatitis C clears the virus from your body. It helps reduces liver inflammation and can help reverse scarring and cirrhosis. You can be re-treated if the treatment doesn’t work the first time.
You should check with your doctor before taking any other medication or supplements, and whether you need vaccinations against hepatitis A and hepatitis B. You should avoid alcohol if you have hepatitis. You may also need to see a liver specialist if you have liver damage.
For more information on how to get onto treatment you can contact the National Hepatitis Info Line on 1800 437 222.
Hepatitis C prevention
There's no vaccination against hepatitis C.
You should avoid sharing needles, syringes or other equipment when injecting medication or drugs.
Avoiding blood-to-blood contact will help prevent it.
If you have hepatitis C, you cannot donate blood or sperm.
Last reviewed: May 2018