What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a virus that causes liver disease. Hepatitis C virus is found in the blood of infected people. People infected with hepatitis C virus can spread it to others.
You can be infected with the hepatitis C virus if you
- Share needles, syringes, or drug preparation equipment with an infected person
- Share personal care items such as razors, toothbrushes, or medical equipment, such as a glucose monitor, with an infected person
- Get a tattoo, body piercing, or acupuncture with unsterile equipment
- Get cut with a sharp instrument or a needlestick injury in a health care setting
- Have sex with an infected partner
Many people infected with hepatitis C virus have no symptoms. Those with symptoms may have fever, fatigue, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, joint pain, and jaundice (yellow color in the skin or eyes).
An infected person with or without symptoms may develop long-term complications that can result in serious liver damage, such as cirrhosis (scarring), liver failure, or liver cancer.
Who is at risk?
Hepatitis C occurs in nearly every part of the world but is most common in some countries in Asia and Africa. This map shows the global prevalence of hepatitis C virus infection.
Although the risk to most travelers is low, your chances of infection increase if you get a transfusion of unscreened blood, have medical or dental procedures abroad, get tattoos or piercings or receive acupuncture with unsterile needles, or have sex with a person infected with hepatitis C.
What can travelers do to prevent hepatitis C infection?
There is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. Although there are treatments for chronic hepatitis, it is better to prevent infection by taking the following steps:
- Don’t inject drugs
- Make sure tattoo, piercing, and acupuncture equipment has been sterilized
- Don’t share toothbrushes or devices that can break the skin, including needles for tattoos, piercings, and acupuncture
- Make sure medical and dental equipment has been sterilized
- Use latex condoms correctly when having sex, especially with new partners
If you traveled and feel sick, particularly if you have a fever, talk to a healthcare provider and tell them about your travel. Avoid contact with other people while you are sick.
If you need medical care abroad, see Getting Health Care Abroad.
Yellow Book: Hepatitis C