Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 1999;59(2):357

See related article on hepatitis C.

Your blood test for hepatitis C was positive. This means that you are infected with the hepatitis C virus (called HCV for short). You're not alone—almost 4 million people in this country have HCV. You got HCV through contact with the blood of another person with HCV. HCV infection causes a liver disease called hepatitis C.

How serious is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is serious for some people. Most people who get hepatitis C have the virus for the rest of their lives and end up with some liver damage. Some people don't feel sick from the liver damage for a long time, and some get cirrhosis (say: sir-oh-sis; it's another word for scarring). This liver disease may lead to liver failure. It may take many years to develop.

What do I do now?

First, talk about the test results with your doctor. Your doctor may want you to get other tests to make sure of the diagnosis and to see if you have liver damage.

What if I don't feel sick?

You can have HCV in your blood for a long time and still feel well. But even if you feel fine, you may have liver damage. Your symptoms may be very mild, like feeling tired much of the time.

How can I take care of my liver?

  • See your doctor regularly.

  • Don't drink alcohol.

  • Tell your doctor about all the medicines you're taking, even over-the-counter and herbal medicines.

  • If you have liver damage, get vaccinated for hepatitis A.

Is there a treatment?

There are medicines for the treatment of hepatitis C. With treatment, a few people get rid of the virus. Check with your doctor to see if treatment might help you.

How do I keep from giving HCV to other people?

  • Don't donate blood, organs, tissue or sperm.

  • Don't share toothbrushes, razors or other things that might have your blood on them.

  • Keep cuts and sores covered with bandages.

  • If you have one long-term, steady sex partner, there is a low chance of giving hepatitis C to that partner through sexual activity. If you want to lower that chance you can use latex condoms when you have sex. Ask your doctor about having your sex partner tested for hepatitis C.

What if I'm pregnant?

Five of every 100 babies born to HCV–infected women get HCV at the time of birth. We can't stop this from happening. However, babies infected with HCV at the time of birth seem to be OK in the first few years of life. We don't know what will happen as they grow up.

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Copyright © 1999 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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