What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C (Hep C) is caused by a virus and affects the liver. Someone can have Hep C and not know it. People can live with Hep C without feeling sick for many years before they have any symptoms. Symptoms often only occur when the damage to the liver becomes severe.
Many people carry the infection in their blood for a lifetime. These people have chronic hepatitis C infection and are at risk of long-term liver problems.
Hep C is passed from person to person through blood-to-blood contact. The only way to know you have Hep C is by taking a blood test. There is no vaccine to protect against Hep C, but treatments are available.
For more information, you can also visit the website www.hepcnwo.ca.
Important Points to Know/Remember
- There is no immunization for hepatitis C but you can take steps to reduce your risk of an infection.
- 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.
- Although the body can sometimes clear the virus on its own without treatment, most people will need treatment. New treatments work well and are easier to take with fewer side effects.
- Individuals can be infected again even if they have cleared the virus or were successfully treated and cured.
- Getting immunized against hepatitis A and B will protect the liver.
How is Hepatitis C spread?
Hepatitis C is spread through direct blood to blood contact and the body fluids containing blood of a person who is infected.
Casual contact with a person living with Hep C, like sharing utensils, hugging, or kissing, has no risk for blood-to-blood contact. To learn more about how someone can become infected with Hep C, visit CATIE's Hepatitis C Basics.
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 OR getting a tattoo or piercing from a place that is not inspected by TBDHU.
- 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 toothbrushes, razors and nail clippers that may have traces of blood
- Passed from parent to child during pregnancy or childbirth, but this is also not common.
How do you know if you have Hepatitis C?
The only way to know is 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 TBDHU’s Sexual Health program and through the mobile unit. There are also some organizations that specialize in hepatitis C testing and treatment including Elevate NWO, the Umbrella Clinic and all OATC locations.
To talk to a nurse about testing, call TBDHU at (807) 625-5900 or toll-free at 1-888-294-6630 and ask for the Sexual Health Program.
How can the spread of Hepatitis C be prevented?
- 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 TBDHU. 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