Hepatitis C is one of a host of viruses that cause liver inflammation, and it is contagious. However, while it is spread through bodily fluids, most cases involve transmission through infected blood, meaning that it's comparatively difficult to pass the disease along. There are ways to reduce your risk of getting hepatitis C and ways of reducing your risk of passing along the disease if you already have it.
Hepatitis C is a type of virus that causes inflammation of the liver. If you get hepatitis C, you can experience two different types of infection: acute, when the body fights off the virus after a few weeks, or chronic. In the case of a chronic hepatitis C infection, the body is not able to eliminate the virus, and the virus establishes itself in the body permanently. Chronic hepatitis C can cause complications such as cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.
Hepatitis C is contagious, but it's not as easy to catch as a cold or the flu. It's usually spread through blood, and is usually spread by using dirty drug or tattoo needles. Hepatitis C can also be spread through sexual contact and through using someone else's toothbrush or razor, although these cases are comparatively rare. Mothers can also pass hepatitis C to their infants. You can't get hepatitis C through casual contact, like hugging or shaking hands, and you can't get it from a toilet or swimming pool, or by sharing glasses or eating utensils.
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. If you have hepatitis C, there are precautions you can take to prevent spreading the disease to others. You shouldn't share personal items, and you should use a condom during sex. Women shouldn't have sex during their periods, since hepatitis C spreads easily through menstrual blood, and if you are a woman who is considering having children, you should speak to your doctor (although it's actually rather rare for hepatitis C to spread from mother to child).
Many people don't experience symptoms of hepatitis C until the disease is well progressed. Early symptoms include fatigue, achiness, nausea and tenderness in the liver area. Later symptoms may include vomiting, low-grade fever and jaundice (yellowing of the skin). Jaundice is a sign of liver injury; the yellow tint is caused by waste that the liver hasn't been able to process.
Hepatitis C can be "treated" with a self-care program: keeping yourself in good shape and avoiding anything that might irritate the liver, such as alcohol and certain medications. For people who need extra treatment, interferon treatments are available to fight the hepatitis C itself. However, these antiviral treatments can cause side effects harsher than the effects of the disease itself. Some advanced cases may warrant a liver transplant (although drug treatment should consider post-transplant since the transplant surgery does not eliminate the hepatitis C virus).