Hepatitis C (HCV)

Hepatitis C is a chronic liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The virus is most commonly spread through drug use and the sharing of drug-using paraphernalia. There remains a large population of individuals estimated to have HCV who are unaware of it. They remain undiagnosed. Testing is the only way to find out if you have an HCV infection. If left untreated, the infection can cause damage to your liver.


Many people infected with HCV will not show any symptoms. Others may not show symptoms for decades. All the while, they can spread the infection to others. They may not know they are infected until they get liver damage.


HCV is spread through contact with infected blood. The virus is commonly spread through injection drug use, tattooing, workplace exposure and exposure outside of Canada.

Workplace exposure occurs by getting pricked by work equipment that has infected blood on it. Exposure outside of Canada occurs as when vacationing to areas where HCV infection is prevalent.

Individuals who were exposed to contaminated blood or blood products or those who underwent organ transplantation prior to 1992 may be at risk.

Although the risk is very low (less than five percent), it is possible to spread the virus through other body fluids. These include saliva, semen, vaginal secretions or breast milk. This makes it possible to spread the virus through sexual contact or when an infant drinks milk from the mother’s breast. But the risk of catching the virus  in these ways remains low.


In one out of four people infected with HCV, the virus goes away on its own during the first six months after infection. Three out of four go on to developing chronic HCV infection.

There are medications available to treat HCV. These can prevent serious liver damage. As symptoms may not show up for decades, it is important to find out if you have the virus. This is so treatment can start immediately. Testing is the only way to find out if you have HCV.

An estimated 242,500 individuals are infected with HCV in Canada. 21 percent of those don’t know they are infected and remain undiagnosed.

HCV infection progresses slowly. For many people, treatment is available. So if you think you may be at risk of infection, consult your health care provider right away.


Taking proper precautions may help reduce your risk of HCV infection.

  • Do not share needles or other drug-using paraphernalia.
  • If you are likely to be in contact with someone else’s blood, wear latex gloves.
  • When getting a tattoo or body piercing, never allow use of homemade equipment or re-using equipment.
  • Practice safe sex (for example, use condoms).

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