Hepatitis C is a virus that infects the liver. Transmission occurs via blood to blood exposure, and most often happens through use of dirty needles (eg intravenous drug use, non-sterile tattoo needles) and contaminated blood products. The risk of transmission via sexual intercourse is thought to be extremely rare.
Most often, patients are completely asymptomatic when they are initially infected with the virus. Those patients that do become symptomatic usually have mild flu-like symptoms, which may be accompanied by right upper abdominal pain
and jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin). Unfortunately, most patients that are exposed to Hepatitis C become chronic carriers of the virus, meaning that the infection persists in the liver. Of the chronic carriers, approximately 20 percent will ultimately develop cirrhosis (a state in which the liver becomes nodular and full of scar tissue). It can take several years (sometimes decades) for symptoms of cirrhosis to present. These symptoms vary greatly depending on the severity of the liver disease, but can include jaundice, fluid in the abdomen, confusion, poor sleep, and easy bruising.
If you have engaged in any risk factors for contacting Hepatitis C as listed above, your primary care physician
can screen you for the virus with a simple blood test.