Hepatitis C is a serious liver infection caused by the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). The virus is spread by exposure to HCV infected blood or body fluid. In the United States, the most common methods of transmission include: injection drug use, needlestick injuries in healthcare settings, birth to an HCV-infected mother, and through donated blood, blood products, or organs (though this is much rarer after blood screening became available in 1992). Less common means of transmission are high risk sexual activity or sharing of personal items contaminated with blood with an HCV-infected person and invasive healthcare procedures (such as injections). Body piercing and tatooing are other potential sources of transmission if contaminated equipment or supplies are used. HCV can take 14 to 180 days (2 weeks to 6 months) to show symptoms in someone who is infected.
The Hepatitis C virus can cause a short-lived illness, but in 75%-85% of people a long-term, chronic infection occurs, which can cause long-term health problems such as cirrohsis or liver cancer.
Many experience no signs or mild symptoms of illness. When symptoms occur, they can include: fever, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetitie, jaundice (yellow skin and/or eyes), fatigue, dark urine, clay-colored stool, and abdominal pain. At this time, there is no vaccine for Hepatitis C and prophlyaxis with immune globulin is not effective in preventing HCV infection after exposure.