Hepatitis C

February 8, 2017

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis C is a contagious disease that can range in severity and be classified as either acute or chronic. If you are diagnosed with hepatitis C, is because you are infected with the hepatitis C virus.

Acute hepatitis is a short-term illness that lasts for approximately 6 months after being exposed to the virus. Most people who start out with an acute infection will eventually get chronic hepatitis C.

Chronic hepatitis is a long-term illness that remains within the body. It can last a lifetime and lead to a variety of liver problems, including cirrhosis as well as liver cancer. Approximately 3,000,000 people in the United States suffer from a chronic hepatitis C infection. Many people have no idea that they are infected because they do not look or feel sick. This can lead to more infections because people are not aware of the infection.

Hepatitis C is spread via blood. The most common way of being infected is by sharing needles, as well as other equipment that is used to inject drugs. Prior to screening blood supply, hepatitis C was also spread via blood transfusions and even organ transplants, but this is no longer such a concern. People who share needles and syringes are more likely to become infected with hepatitis C as well as needle stick injuries within a healthcare setting. If someone is born to a mother with hepatitis C, there is a significant likelihood that they will have hepatitis C as well. In less common instances, a person may also be infected by sharing personal care items, such as razors and toothbrushes. It is also possible to be infected with the hepatitis C virus through sexual contact. This likelihood is very low, however.


Hepatitis C infection is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV).

People can catch hepatitis C if the blood of someone who has hepatitis C enters their body. Exposure may occur –

  • After a needle stick or sharps injury
  • If blood from someone who has hepatitis C contacts a cut on the skin or contacts the eyes or mouth

People at risk of hepatitis C are those who –

  • Inject street drugs or share a needle with someone who has hepatitis C
  • Have been on long-term kidney dialysis
  • Have regular contact with blood at work (such as a health care worker)
  • Have unprotected sexual contact with a person who has hepatitis C
  • Were born to a mother who had hepatitis C
  • Received a tattoo or acupuncture with needles that were not disinfected properly after being used on another person (risk is very low with practitioners who have a tattoo license or permit or an acupuncture license)
  • Received an organ transplant from a donor who has hepatitis C
  • Share personal items, such as toothbrushes and razors, with someone who has hepatitis C (less common)
  • Received a blood transfusion (rare in the United States since blood screening became available in 1992)

Risk Factors

People are at risk of hepatitis C infection if they-

  • Are a health care worker who has been exposed to infected blood, such as may happen if an infected needle pierces the skin
  • Have ever injected or inhaled illicit drugs
  • Have HIV
  • Received a piercing or tattoo in an unclean environment using unsterile equipment
  • Received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992
  • Received clotting factor concentrates before 1987
  • Received hemodialysis treatments for a long period of time
  • Were born to a woman with a hepatitis C infection
  • Were ever in prison
  • Were born between 1945 and 1965, the age group with the highest incidence of hepatitis C infection


Most people do not have any symptoms until the hepatitis C virus causes liver damage, which can take 10 or more years to happen. Others may have one or more of the following symptoms –

  • Feeling tired
  • Muscle soreness
  • Upset stomach
  • Stomach pain
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Dark-yellow urine
  • Light-colored stools
  • Yellowish eyes and skin, called jaundice

When symptoms of hepatitis C occur, they can begin 1 to 3 months after coming into contact with the virus. See a doctor right away if you or a child in your care has symptoms of hepatitis C.


Hepatitis C infection that continues over many years can cause significant complications, such as –

  • Scarring of the liver tissue (cirrhosis) – After 20 to 30 years of hepatitis C infection, cirrhosis may occur. Scarring in the liver makes it difficult for the liver to function.
  • Liver cancer – A small number of people with hepatitis C infection may develop liver cancer.
  • Liver failure – A liver that is severely damaged by hepatitis C may be unable to function adequately.


New combination treatments (pegylated interferon and ribarivin) have greatly improved the outcomes for people with hepatitis C. These treatments help decrease inflammation in the liver and can clear the virus in 30 to 65 per cent of cases.

There are some side effects related to hepatitis C medicines. It is important to talk with your doctor about treatment options.

In general, people who have hepatitis C will feel better if they –

  • Avoid drinking alcohol.
  • Eat a well-balanced, low-fat diet.
  • Do regular exercise (although always rest when tired).
  • Consult their doctor regularly.

Some people who have hepatitis C have used complementary or natural therapies to manage the symptoms of hepatitis C and the side effects of combination treatment.

Alternative Treatment

Alpha lipoic acid boosts levels of glutathione, a detoxifying antioxidant that is particularly protective of the liver.

Silymarin, an herbal extract derived from milk thistle, also increases glutathione levels, plus it curbs inflammation and rejuvenates the liver by stimulating the production of new hepatic cells.

Selenium, a trace mineral, slows the replication of the hepatitis C virus—I like to think of it as “viral birth control.”

Milk thistle – This plant has been used for liver, bile duct, and gallbladder health for thousands of years, according to the National Institutes of Health. Milk thistle and its active ingredient, silymarin, are probably the most well-studied of the alternative hepatitis C treatments.

Vitamin D – Studies found that patients who took vitamin D had lower amounts of substances associated with liver injury in their blood.

Green tea and green tea extract – Many natural-health websites extol the compounds in green tea as a treatment for various conditions, including hepatitis C.

Yoga and meditation – While mind-body practices can’t treat hepatitis C, they can help you stay well while you have the virus, Hashemi says. Regular meditation, for example, could help you feel less stressed.

Flushes, cleanses, detoxes – As with green tea, many websites recommend special “cleansing diets” to rid the liver of toxins and remove hepatitis C virus from the body.