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Facts About...

HEPATITIS C


What is it?

Hepatitis C is a virus which is carried in the blood and attacks the liver. Hepatitis C is known as a “silent killer” as most people infected have no symptoms until the damage has already been done to their liver. Hepatitis C is a leading cause of cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver transplants. 

Hepatitis C is a reportable disease and must be reported to the Health Department.

How is it spread?

Hepatitis C is common worldwide and is spread when the blood of an infected person gets into the bloodstream of another person.
You may be at risk of hepatitis C:

  • If you use or have used injection drugs or share/have shared drug-related equipment
  • If you have had a tattoo or body piercing with non-sterile equipment
  • If you were born or lived in countries where hepatitis C is common
  • If you received a blood transfusion or organ transplant prior to 1990 (since 1990, all blood donations in Canada have been screened for the virus).

The risk of spread through sexual contact is low. Still, people who have many sex partners are at increased risk of being infected with hepatitis C. The spread from mother to baby during pregnancy or at birth is uncommon. At this time, breastfeeding is not known to spread the virus from mother to baby. Mothers with cracked or bleeding nipples, however, are recommended to use alternatives until they heal.

What do I look for?

Most people infected with hepatitis C show no symptoms. The most commonly reported symptoms are lack of appetite, feeling tired, nausea, abdominal pain or jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin). 

How is it treated?

  • To determine whether or not you have hepatitis C, you will need to have a blood test. Early diagnosis can prevent health problems that may result from infection. The earlier a person is diagnosed and has had follow-up medical care the less chance of spreading hepatitis C to others. People with hepatitis C should speak with their doctor/health care provider to determine if treatment is an option.

How can I protect myself?

  • Do not share needles or drug injection equipment.
  • If you use needles to take drugs, always use a new needle each time. You can get new, clean needles and injection equipment from Project X Change (John Howard Society of Durham).
  • Always practice safer sex and use latex condoms when having oral, anal or vaginal sex.
  • Avoid sharing personal hygiene items (e.g. razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers).
  • Carefully investigate personal body services and make sure you go to a technician who uses new and/or sterile equipment for each customer.
  • Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B.
  • Use gloves to clean items/surfaces with blood on them with detergent and water then disinfect contaminated items/surfaces with a bleach solution (one part household bleach to nine parts water). The surface is to remain wet for a minimum of 10 minutes.
  • If you plan to have any skin piercing or tattooing, make sure you go to a technician who uses new and/or sterile equipment for each customer.
  • If you are exposed to human blood products seek medical attention immediately.

October 10, 2014