The hepatitis C virus is a bloodborne virus. It is most commonly transmitted through:
- injecting drug use through the sharing of injection equipment;
- the reuse or inadequate sterilization of medical equipment, especially syringes and needles in healthcare settings;
- the transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products;
- sexual practices that lead to exposure to blood (for example, among men who have sex with men, particularly those with HIV infection or those taking pre-exposure prophylaxis against HIV infection).
HCV can also be transmitted sexually and can be passed from an infected mother to her baby; however, these modes of transmission are less common.
Hepatitis C is not spread through breast milk, food, water or casual contact such as hugging, kissing and sharing food or drinks with an infected person.
WHO estimates that in 2015, there were 1.75 million new HCV infections in the world (23.7 new HCV infections per 100 000 people).
The incubation period for hepatitis C ranges from 2 weeks to 6 months. Following initial infection, approximately 80% of people do not exhibit any symptoms. Those who are acutely symptomatic may exhibit fever, fatigue, decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, grey-coloured faeces, joint pain and jaundice (yellowing of skin and the whites of the eyes).