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Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV) that can be treated. If left untreated, hepatitis C can cause liver cancer, cirrhosis, and other complications.

Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus, one of the most common hepatitis viruses in British Columbia.

Most people who have hepatitis C feel well, have no symptoms, and do not know they have the disease. Some people clear hepatitis C from their body, which means the virus goes away on its own. Most people will not clear the virus and hepatitis C can become a long-term (chronic) condition without treatment. Hepatitis C can be managed and usually cured with anti-viral medications. The only way to know for sure that you have hepatitis C is to have a blood test.

It is common for people living with hepatitis C infection to not notice any symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they will most likely show up 6 to 7 weeks after infection. The most common symptoms include:

  • fever
  • feeling tired
  • muscle pain
  • loss of appetite and nausea
  • stomach pain
  • jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)

People may develop a chronic (long-term) infection and experience long-term health concerns that are difficult to diagnose such as tiredness, lack of energy, or digestive problems.

Hepatitis C is passed through blood-to-blood contact. It is most often passed by:

  • Sharing drug equipment such as needles, syringes and pipes
  • Blood or blood product transfusions in a country where the blood supply is not tested for hepatitis C. In Canada, this applies to transfusions received before 1992. As of June 1992, all blood and blood products in Canada have been screened for hepatitis C
  • Tattoos, body-piercing, acupuncture or electrolysis if the equipment is not sterile
  • Sexual contact where blood is exchanged, especially when a person has a sexually transmitted infection or is living with HIV

Pregnancy: Tell your health care provider if you are pregnant and are living with hepatitis C infection. You can pass hepatitis C to your child during birth. Breast/chest-feeding is usually still encouraged, but talk to your health care provider.

Hepatitis C is not passed through exchange of genital fluids or by casual contact such as hugging, kissing, sneezing, coughing, or sharing food or drinks.

People living with chronic hepatitis C infection can pass it to others even if they don’t have symptoms.

People may develop a chronic (long-term) infection which increases the risk of liver cancer or liver failure needing a transplant, cirrhosis, kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, and death.


Testing for hepatitis C is done with a blood sample.

Get tested for hepatitis C if you have:

  • symptoms
  • use drugs, inject drugs, share drugs or drug use equipment
  • have a sexual partner you have anal sex with who has tested positive for hepatitis C

In addition, the BC Guidelines for Viral Hepatitis Testing recommends testing for people:

  • born between 1945 and 1965
  • born outside of Canada in countries where there are more hepatitis C infections
  • who received health care or services like tattoos, piercings, and acupuncture in places that might have poor infection control
  • who received blood products in Canada before 1992
  • who have had sex without a condom with someone who has hepatitis C
  • who have shared personal care items like razors with someone who has a hepatitis C infection
  • who have a mother with a hepatitis C infection

Review the patient handout: Hepatitis C: Have you been tested? (PDF)

People who are at continued risk of infection or reinfection, such as those who are use substances and share equipment like needles and syringes, are recommended to be tested annually.

Window period (how long to wait before testing):

Most test results are accurate 5 to 10 weeks after you come into contact with hepatitis C. In British Columbia, most test results should be ready in 10 days.

Find a clinic

Hepatitis C is treated with anti-viral medications. The medications are tablets taken by mouth for 8 to 12 weeks. More than 95% of people who complete treatment clear the infection.

Medications prescribed for hepatitis C treatment are free or partially covered for people with government or private insurance. Patient support programs are also available to help cover costs if there are any.

If you have been diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C infection, you should see a health care provider to check the health of your liver. They can also offer and help you plan for treatment. Even if you have no symptoms, hepatitis C can still cause damage to your liver and other organs such as your kidneys. Treatment can prevent new or worsening organ damage, so getting treatment earlier can help protect your health. If you do not get treatment, a health care provider should check the health of your liver every 6 to 12 months.

Find hepatitis clinics

People affected by hepatitis C may want more information or to talk to others who are also affected. BC Hepatitis Network can connect you with resources and local support groups in your area.

Help4HepBC, a free helpline, was launched by BC Hepatitis Network. Callers can talk one-to-one with a trained staff person.

You can call Help4HepBC anytime at 1-888-411-7578 or email You can also visit their website at

The BC Hepatitis Network can connect you with local support groups in your area.

If you think that you may have hepatitis C you can also contact your local health unit or your primary care provider for further information.

Currently there is no vaccine available for hepatitis C.

You can clear hepatitis C infection and still become infected again in the future. You can also become infected with other types of hepatitis virus if you have hepatitis C. If you are living with hepatitis C infection, you should be vaccinated against hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and pneumococcal disease. These vaccines should be free from your local health unit or primary care provider.

To prevent hepatitis C transmission, you can:

  • get tested for hepatitis C if you have engaged in any behaviour that is a risk for hepatitis C transmission in the last 12 months since you were previously tested
  • use condoms
  • do not share drug equipment, such as needles, spoons or drug mixes
  • use new drug equipment every time you use drugs
  • use new supplies for tattoos and body piercings
  • do not share toothbrushes, razors, or any other household products that may have blood on them

SOURCE: Hepatitis C ( )
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