Hepatitis C can be categorised into two stages, firstly an acute infection (following initial infection) and secondly a chronic infection. The acute stage refers to the first 6 months of infection and does not necessarily mean there are any noticeable symptoms. Since symptoms are commonly absent many people are unaware that they have hepatitis C until some time after they have been infected.
Symptoms of acute hepatitis C infection can include:
- Jaundice (yellow skin or eyes)
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea (sick to your stomach)
People may develop a chronic (long-term) infection and expereince long-term health concerns that are difficult to diagnose (for example, tiredness, lack of energy, or digestive problems). It is important to recognise that hepatitis C can cause a variety of symptoms that are highly variable – people with chronic heaptitis C can feel fine and have no symptoms, however others will suffer from quite severe symptoms.
The virus is usually spread by direct contact with the blood of an infected person. This happens most often by:
- Sharing drug snorting or injection equipment such as needles and syringes
- Accidentally poking yourself with a used needle and syringe
- Having received a transfusion of blood or blood product in a country where the blood supply is not tested for hepatitis C.
- In Canada, this applies only to transfusions before 1990. As of June 1990 all blood and blood products have been screened for the hepatitis C virus.
Other situations where blood-to-blood contact from a hepatitis C infected person can occur but the risk is much lower include:
- Sharing toothbrushes, dental floss, razors, nail files, or other items which could have tiny amounts of blood on them
- Skin-piercing procedures such as tattoos, body-piercing, acupuncture or electrolysis if the equipment is not sterile
- Sexual intercourse
- An infected mother passing it to her newborn infant. Whether breast milk can transmit the virus is not yet known.
Hepatitis C is NOT known to be spread by:
How is Hepatitis C NOT spread?
- Coughing or sneezing
- Friendly contact such as hugging and kissing
- Using the same dishes or cutlery
- Swimming in a treated pool when you have cuts, scrapes or are menstruating
- Being bitten or stung by an insect which then bites or stings someone else
- Skin contact by others with your body fluids (such as saliva, urine, faeces or vomit)