Hepatitis C refers to liver inflammation caused by the hep C virus (“hepar” means liver in Greek and “itis” is the word-forming suffix used to denote an inflammatory disease). It is important to note that heavy alcohol use, certain toxins, conditions, and medications can cause hepatitis C as well.
Hepatitis C ranges anywhere from a mild, short-term illness to a serious, lifelong malady. We differentiate between acute and chronic hepatitis C. If left untreated, chronic hep C can cause numerous health problems, including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver damage, liver cancer, and even death. Around 75%-85% of individuals infected with the hep C virus will develop a chronic infection at some point in their lives.
How Is Hepatitis C Transmitted?
The hep C virus is passed on when the blood of an infected individual enters the body of a healthy person. Having said that, hepatitis C is most commonly transmitted through:
- Sharing syringes, needles or other equipment used to inject drugs
- Needlestick injuries occurring in healthcare settings
- Being born to an infected mother
Some of the less common ways of transmitting hepatitis C include:
- Sharing toothbrushes, razors, and other personal items that may have some blood leftovers
- Having sex with an infected person
- Getting a body piercing or tattoo in an unsanitary parlor
Hepatitis C is extremely contagious in some circumstances and completely harmless in others. It is not airborne, unlike the common cold or flu, so it cannot be transmitted through coughing, sneezing or sharing food with an infected person. Also, you cannot get hepatitis C through kissing, hugging, holding hands, and sharing common household utensils.
Can You Get Re-Infected With Hepatitis C?
Yes. Even if you performed a dedicated hepatitis C test to diagnose the infection and were successfully treated and cured, you can still get re-infected if you come into contact with the blood of a hep C positive individual.
You can get re-infected with hepatitis C even if the virus left your body without treatment and without developing a chronic infection. This happens in around 15%-25% of all cases and doctors still do not understand the underlying cause of this phenomenon.