Hepatitis C is an infection caused by the Hepatitis C virus (HCV), which leads to inflammation of the liver. There are two different types: acute or chronic.
Acute hepatitis C refers to infection lasting 6 months or less. Most cases of acute hepatitis C progress to the chronic form, but some patients are able to clear the infection without treatment. Chronic hepatitis C has a longer duration and can be a lifelong illness. If left untreated, it can lead to cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver failure, or liver cancer.
Hepatitis C is a contagious disease and is spread through contact with infected blood or body fluids. This can occur by sharing needles with an infected person when injecting drugs, receiving a tattoo or piercing with unsterilized equipment used on an infected person, or sharing personal care items (e.g. razors, toothbrushes, etc.) with an infected person. Less commonly, the disease can be spread through sexual contact and childbirth. Transmission cannot occur by coughing, sneezing, kissing, or shaking hands.