What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis is a medical term meaning inflammation of the liver. Inflammation is the body’s natural reaction to injury or infection, often resulting in swelling and tenderness. The liver is the “power house” of the body, an important organ that absorbs nutrients from your food, stores and produces substances your body needs, and breaks down waste products and harmful substances (toxins).

Your liver is located just under and behind the rib cage high on your right hand side. There are many different types of hepatitis, caused by a number of different things, including alcohol, chemicals and a number of different viruses.

Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are all caused by different viruses and are all different in the way they affect the body; the main thing they have in common is that they all cause inflammation of the liver. The virus that causes Hepatitis C is called the Hepatitis C Virus, or HCV. This fact sheet is for people who have been diagnosed with both HCV and HIV. It covers the most important facts about HCV infection, treatment, and the special issues facing people who are coinfected with both of these viruses.

How do you catch Hep C? Like HIV, HCV is a blood-borne virus. Unlike HIV, however, it is difficult to catch Hep C through sexual contact. Hep C infection occurs when blood that contains HCV enters the bloodstream of an uninfected person. This is called blood-to-blood contact. Only a tiny amount of blood, possibly even so small it is invisible to the eye, is needed to transmit the virus.

There are a number of ways this can happen:

**Injecting drugs Hep C can be transmitted by sharing injecting equipment, including syringes, needles, tourniquets, swabs, water or spoons. Most people (about 80%) with Hep C are believed to have been infected this way.

**Blood transfusions and blood products Before 1990, blood donations were not screened for Hepatitis C. Some people who had a blood transfusion, or received certain blood products, before screening began, contracted Hep C this way. Since 1990, all donated blood has been s creened for Hep C.

**Tattooing and body piercing A small number of people may have become infected with Hep C through non-sterile skin penetration procedures, including tattooing or body piercing.

**Some people have also contracted Hep C through needle-stick injuries, exposure to blood in the home or some other form of blood-to-blood contact.

**Because HCV is able to survive outside the body for longer periods than HIV, it’s possible to get Hep C from sharing toothbrushes, razors, nail scissors or any other object that may enable even a tiny amount of blood from one person to enter the bloodstream of another.

**Sex Some people may have been infected through sexual contact, although scientists believe that this is very rare and there needs to be blood present during sex for there to be any risk at all of sexual transmission. Hep C is not considered a sexually transmissible infection.


You can’t transmit Hep C through social contact As with HIV, Hep C is not passed on by casual contact – touching, hugging, kissing – by sharing food, drinks, plates, eating utensils, laundry facilities or toilets, or through sneezing or coughing. Mosquitos and other biting insects cannot transmit Hep C.


Reinfection You can be infected with Hep C more than once. Even if you already have Hep C, you can be reinfected with another genotype or strain of HCV, or you can be reinfected with a mutated form of the same genotype.

There are eleven known Hep C genotypes. Being infected with more than one genotype could mean that there is more HCV in your blood, which may make the infection more severe. Testing for Hep C An antibody blood test showing presence of antibodies to the virus is evidence of present or past infection.