Hepatitis C

Oregon has the highest mortality rate associated with hepatitis C or hep C in the country and it is estimated that 95,000 Oregonians have hep C and half don’t know it.

Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus. Hep C is a blood borne virus that is only passed when blood from someone who has hep C gets into the bloodstream of another person.  This is called blood-to-blood contact. Hep C can be passed on by small amounts of blood, sometimes so small that it is not visible to the eye.

hep-cMost Common Transmission Routes

Sharing any form of injection equipment such as needles, syringes, spoons, tourniquets, water, filter and preparation surfaces are common ways that hep C can be passed from person to person.  This is the most common way hep c is transmitted in the United States. Even if someone shares injection drug equipment every now and then, only one time or maybe years ago, this is still enough risk to acquire hep C. 

Other ways hep C can be transmitted in the United States include:

  • Receipt of donated blood, blood products, and organs (once a common means of transmission but now rare in the United States since blood screening became available in 1992)
  • Needlestick injuries in health care settings
  • Birth to a hep C-infected mother
Less commonly, a person can also get hep C through:

  • Sex with a hep C-infected person (an inefficient means of transmission, although HIV-infected men who have sex with men have increased risk of sexual transmission)
  • Sharing personal items contaminated with infectious blood, such as razors or toothbrushes (also inefficient vectors of transmission)
  • Other health care procedures that involve invasive procedures, such as injections (usually recognized in the context of outbreaks)
  • Hep C can also be passed on when equipment used for tattooing or piercing is not sterile. This is more likely to occur in non-licensed facilities and non-regulated facilities.
You CANNOT get hep C from
  • Sneezing/coughing
  • Sharing food or drink
  • Kissing or hugging
  • Toilet seats
  • Mosquito bites
Acute hep C symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice (yellow color in the skin or eyes)
Most people with acute or chronic hepatitis C virus infection do not have any symptoms. In general, common symptoms for chronic hep C include chronic fatigue and depression. Many people eventually develop chronic liver disease, which can range from mild to severe, including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer. Chronic liver disease in people with hep C usually happens slowly, without any signs or symptoms, over several decades. Chronic hep C virus infection is often not recognized until people are screened for blood donation or from an abnormal blood test found during a routine examination.

If you are living with the hep C there has never been a better time to start treatment and get cured. The Oregon Health Authority has expanded treatment for hep C to everyone on the Oregon Health Plan who’s infected, they have eliminated the requirement that individuals with substance abuse disorder addiction treatment before being treated and cured for hep C.

There are several medications available to treat chronic hep C. Hep C treatments have gotten much better in recent years. Current usually involve just 8-12 weeks of oral therapy (pills) and cure over 90% of people with few side effects (although may need to be taken longer if cirrhosis or other liver disease is present). For a complete list of currently approved FDA treatments for hep C, please visit http://www.hepatitisc.uw.edu/page/treatment/drugs.

You Can Prevent Hep C
If you are a person who uses injection equipment, you should use sterile injecting equipment every time and never share your equipment with another person, or use someone else’s equipment.  Check out the Jackson County Syringe Exchange for services that can help prevent the spread of hep C and HIV. Other Syringe Exchange service locations can be found through the NASEN website.

Only get tattoos and piercings through licensed and qualified operators. They should use proper sterilization and equipment.

Do not share personal items that may be contaminated with infectious blood, such as razors or toothbrushes.


Could you be at risk of hep C? If you have ever shared drug injecting equipment, or been involved in activities where there may have been blood to blood contact, then you might have hep C or be at risk of getting the hep C virus.
hep-c-testIt is recommended that the following people should be tested for hep C:

  • Current or former people who inject drugs, including those who injected only once many years ago
  • Everyone born from 1945  to 1965
  • Anyone who received clotting factor concentrates made before 1987
  • Recipients of blood transfusions or solid organ transplants before July 1992
  • Long-term hemodialysis patients
  • People with known exposures to the hepatitis C virus, such as
    • health care workers or public safety workers after needle sticks involving blood from someone infected with hep C virus
    • recipients of blood or organs from a donor who tested positive for the hep C virus
      People with HIV infection
  • Children born to mothers with hep C
  • People in jails or prisons
  • People who use drugs snorted through the nose (in addition to people who inject drugs),
  • People who get an unregulated tattoo
Get Tested. Know Your Status.

Most people who are infected with the hep C virus do not develop symptoms. The only way to know if you have hep C is to get tested.  Jackson County Public Health offers rapid hep C testing, or you can go to your primary healthcare provider or one of the following clinics:

Central Point, Phoenix, West Medford, or the Women’s Clinic.

Call 541- 618-1300 for appointments