Hepatitis C

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the livercaused by several viruses.  There are three principal kinds, hepatitis A,B, and C. Hepatitis A is caused by the hepatitis A virus, B by the B virus, andC by the C virus. 

Hepatitis C disease can range in severity from amild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong condition that can leadto cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver or liver cancer which is generallyapparent after many years.

How do you get Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C virus is transmitted throughcontact with the blood of an infected person. Exposure can occur through:  contaminated blood transfusions, bloodproducts, and organ transplants; injections given with contaminated syringesand needle-stick injuries in health-care settings; injection drug use; or beingborn to a hepatitis C-infected mother. 

It may also be transmitted through sex with aninfected person or, less commonly, sharing of personal items that may have beencontaminated with infectious blood. Hepatitis C is not spread through breastmilk, food or water or by casual contact and sharing food or drinks with aninfected person. The practice of sharing needles by drug users leads to a highrisk of exposure to this infection.    

Susceptibility and Resistance

All persons are susceptible. 

Incubation Period

The incubation period for Hepatitis C is 30-180 days.

What are the Symptoms?

Infection with hepatitis C is oftenasymptomatic.  However, it generally causes mild symptoms in 15% of the cases. Symptoms include decreased appetite, fatigue, nausea, muscle or joint pains, and weight loss. Jaundice (yellow skin) is usually absent. About 10-50% of cases get well spontaneously.  About 80% exposed to the virus develop a chronic, slowly progressive, long lasting infection with few, if any, symptoms during the first few decades. After many years, cirrhosis and liver cancer may develop. People with cirrhosis have a 20-fold greater risk of liver cancer. 

Preventative Measures

No vaccine is available for this virus.  If seeking medical care, travellers should ensure that medical equipment has been adequately sterilised if possible.  If possible, avoid transfusions of blood that has not been screened, and avoid getting tattoos or body piercings where equipment may not have been adequately sterilised.


For people with chronic infection, treatment with specific antiviral drugs  for a period of 24 or 48 weeks generally succeeds in curing 40-80% of the cases. Currently, treatment is expensive and subject to restrictions. There are 6 types of the hepatitis C virus and they may respond differently to treatment. The most frequently used antiviral drugs are interferon combined with ribavirin, but interferon is not always well tolerated. Two new therapeutic agents, telaprevir and boceprevir, have recently been licensed in some countries.


Where Does It Commonly Occur?

Hepatitis C can be found worldwide since approximately 3 percent of the world's population has been infected with this virus. Sub-Saharan African countries, Egypt, and parts of India and Pakistan have some of the highest levels. Intermediate levels can be found throughout eastern Europe, Russia, China, Mongolia, countries in southern Africa, and Australia.