Frequently Asked Questions
Experts at Mount Sinai Health System are available to answer questions you may have about hepatitis C. In addition, here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs).
What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C (HCV) is a virus that causes liver infection. The infection attacks the liver and causes inflammation. It can result in a mild short-term illness or a serious lifelong illness. Left untreated, hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer.
How is hepatitis C spread?
Hepatitis C spreads through the transmission of blood and bodily fluids. Most commonly, people become infected by sharing needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject drugs. In some cases, HCV can spread from mother to baby during childbirth.
Less commonly, hepatitis C can spread by sharing razors or toothbrushes, tattooing, and sexual contact most often in men who have sex with men.
And, before 1992, when blood-screening programs for hepatitis C were first introduced, it was possible for HCV to be spread through blood transfusions. Today, in the United States, the blood supply is screened to eliminate HCV-infected blood to prevent spreading this way.
The virus cannot spread through the air, breastfeeding, kissing, or unbroken skin.
Is there a cure for hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C can be cured, especially if it is discovered and treated early which is why, if you are at risk, screening is so important.
There are many medications that can be effective in treating hepatitis C, as described by the American Liver Foundation. In addition to approved drugs, there are experimental treatments that are being studied in clinical trials.
With the available and new treatments, physicians expect that the cure rate for hepatitis C will continue to rise.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is known as a hidden or silent killer because you may not experience symptoms until they have developed into a serious condition such as cirrhosis or liver cancer. Symptoms may include:
- Abdominal discomfort
- Loss of appetite
- Mild to severe flu-like symptoms
- Weight loss
- Yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes (jaundice)
Who is at risk for hepatitis C?
You are considered at high risk for hepatitis C, if you are a:
- Child born to a hepatitis C-infected mother
- Drug user through needle injection or the nose
- Health care worker with needle-stick injuries
- Client who has received:
- Tattoos from unlicensed tattoo parlors
- Manicures and pedicures with tools that were not properly sterilized and cleaned
- Recipient of blood transfusion or organ transplantation before 1992
How common is hepatitis C?
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, more than 3.2 million Americans have hepatitis C. And, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported that in 2016, there were an estimated 41,000 new hepatitis C acute infections in the United States.
Approximately 75 to 85 percent of people who are infected with hepatitis C virus develop a chronic disease.
The CDC recommends that those born between 1945 and 1965 be tested for hepatitis C.
What is HepCAP?
HepCAP is a program for uninsured individuals in New York State who have chronic hepatitis C. Offered through the NYS Department of Health, it is available to help you if you have chronic hepatitis C. HepCAP provides access to care and treatment.
To be eligible for HepCAP, you must meet certain criterial.
Mount Sinai is a HepCAP provider. Contact our REACH office at 212-824-7453 to schedule a screening or to find out about the program.
Is there a vaccine for hepatitis C?
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. However, there are vaccines for hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
- Hepatitis A (HAV): You can contract hepatitis A by coming into contact with an object of an HAV-infected-person, usually through contaminated food or water. It typically occurs suddenly and clears up on its own. While there is no treatment for HAV, there is a preventative vaccine.
- Hepatitis B (HBV): You can contract hepatitis B when blood or bodily fluids infected with HBV enter your body, usually through sex or sharing needles. It is possible for an infected mother to pass HBV to her baby during birth. HBV can start as a short-term infection, but it can become a long-term (chronic) condition. In some cases, HBV can lead to liver failure and death. Very effective treatments are available as well as a preventative vaccine.
- Hepatitis C (HCV): Like hepatitis B, hepatitis C can begin as a short-term infection. However, HCV often remains in your body, resulting in chronic disease and long-term liver problems. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, but new, more effective treatments are now available.