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Disease Directory

Hepatitis C

What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a contagious disease that causes liver damage. Hepatitis C is usually spread by blood contact. Rarely, it can be spread by sexual contact.

Hepatitis C can be a short-term (acute) illness; however, for most people acute infection leads to long-term (chronic) infection which is a serious disease than can result in death. Many people who get the hepatitis C virus have no symptoms at first. Those who do have symptoms may have appetite loss, stomach pain, tiredness, nausea, dark urine, or yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice). Even if they don’t have initial symptoms, most people who are infected develop long-term illness that can result in serious liver disease, such as scarring and other damage to the liver (cirrhosis), liver failure, or liver cancer.

Who is at risk?
Hepatitis C is most common in some countries in Asia and Africa, but it occurs in nearly every part of the world (See Map 3-05). The risk to most travelers is low, but travelers could become infected if they receive a transfusion of unscreened blood, have medical or dental procedures in a developing country, get tattoos or piercings or receive acupuncture with needles that are not sterile, or have sex with an infected person.

What can travelers do to prevent hepatitis C?
There is currently no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. Travelers can protect themselves by following these steps:
Protect yourself:

  • Use latex condoms correctly.
  • Do not inject drugs.
  • Limit alcohol consumption. People take more risks when intoxicated.
  • Do not share needles or any devices that can break the skin. That includes needles for tattoos, piercings, and acupuncture. If you do get tattoos, piercings or acupuncture in another country make sure the equipment used is sterile.
  • If you receive medical or dental care, make sure the equipment is disinfected or sanitized.

Consider medical evacuation insurance:

  • An injury or illness that requires invasive medical or dental treatment (e.g., injection, IV drip, transfusion, stitching) could result in hepatitis C infection if the blood supply is not properly screened.
  • Medical evacuation insurance may cover the cost to transfer you to the nearest destination where complete care can be obtained. Some policies may cover your eventual return to your home country. For more information see: For more information see: Insurance.