Hepatitis C (HCV)

Description

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver caused by the Hepatitis C virus. The infection can cause swelling and scarring of the liver.  The illness can be mild in some people, while others can experience severe disease.  Many people carry the infection in their blood for a life time. These people have chronic hepatitis C infection and are at risk of long-term liver problems.

 

Important Points to Know/Remember

  • There is no immunization for hepatitis C but you can take steps to reduce your risk of an infection.
  • There is very effective treatment available now in Canada.
  • The only way to know is to get tested.
  • The first test hepatitis C blood test only tells you in you have antibodies in your blood; you need a second test to know if you have an active infection that needs treatment.
  • Protect your liver by getting immunized against hepatitis A and B.

If you have questions about testing or immunization, please call a public health nurse at 625-5900 or toll-free at 1-888-294-6630 and ask for the Infectious Disease program.

 

How is Hepatitis C spread?

Hepatitis C is spread through direct blood to blood contact and body fluids containing blood, of an infected person.

 

Situations that put you at higher risk of getting hepatitis C are:

  • Having a tattoo or piercing, now or in the past, with equipment that was shared or not sterilized properly 
  • Sharing needles or equipment for injecting drugs; this includes ties and cookers
  • Sharing supplies for inhaling (smoking) or snorting drugs
  • Getting a blood transfusion or blood products before 1992

 

Situations that put you at low risk of getting hepatitis C are:

  • Having unprotected sex
  • Sharing personal items such as razors, nail clippers or toothbrushes with an infected person
  • Infecting an unborn child through pregnancy

Hepatitis C is NOT spread through kissing, coughing, or sharing eating utensils.

 

How do You know if you have Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C can be diagnosed through a blood test. The first blood test tells you if you have been exposed to the virus and have antibodies in your blood. A second test is needed to know if you have an active infection that needs treatment.

The blood test can be ordered by your health care provider. You can also have the test through the Health Unit's Sexual Health program and at the street nursing mobile unit. There are also some organizations that specialize in hepatitis C testing and treatment including Elevate NWO, all OATC locations in Thunder Bay and Liver Care Northwest.

To talk to a nurse about testing, please call the Health Unit at 625-5900 or toll-free at 1-888-294-6630 and ask for the Infectious Disease program.

 

How can the spread of Hepatitis C be prevented?

  • Don't share needles or other drug injecting equipment like ties or cookers.
  • Don't share supplies for inhaling (smoking) or snorting drugs. Get NEW supplies for free from Superior Points by calling 625-8831, 625-7996 or 625-8830.
  • Get a tattoo, body piercing or acupuncture from a reputable provider that is inspected by the Health Unit. Ask them about their infection control practices; they should use single-use, disposable needles are sterilized equipment.
  • Don't share personal items such as razors, nail clippers, or toothbrushes.
  • Use safer sex practices. Use condoms for oral, vaginal, and anal sex.
  • Wear protective gloves if you are likely to be in contact with someone else’s blood.

 

This page provides basic information only. It must not take the place of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to a health care professional about any health concerns.

 

For Further Information

Call the Infectious Disease Program: (807) 625-5900

or toll-free 1-888-294-6630

Health Topic
Diseases & Infections