Par Eric Charette | 08 June 2021

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a viral STBBI transmitted mainly through injectable drug use. It tends to cause chronic infection, without obvious symptoms, which is why almost half of those infected don’t know their status. This infection can damage the liver in the absence of treatment, but high cure rates are possible due to the availability of new antiviral medications.

ITSS Site5 HepatiteC


Hepatitis C is an infection caused by a virus that is transmitted via bodily fluids, including blood. Sexual and mother-to-fetus transmission are possible but very rare.

Who is at risk of infection?

In Québec, most new infections are linked to injectable drug use. More rarely, transmission can occur during sex or from a mother to her fetus. Hepatitis C is more widespread in certain regions outside of Canada where transmission also occurs during non-sterile medical procedures.

The following can increase your risk of exposure to infection:

  • sharing non-sterile materials for injection or inhalation (e.g., intranasal cocaine)
  • tattooing, piercing or transfusion with non-sterile materials
  • having unprotected sex when there is a high risk of bleeding
  • being incarcerated

Public health authorities have also observed high rates of hepatitis C in people born between 1950 and 1969 (baby boomers). It is therefore recommended for people in this age group to be screened once in their life.

Symptoms and complications

Hepatitis C has a tendency to become a chronic infection. Affected people often have no symptoms and transmit the virus without realizing. If symptoms do appear, often many years after the initial infection, they can include:

  • intense fatigue
  • loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting
  • abdominal pain and diarrhea
  • pale stools and dark urine
  • fever
  • jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)

Chronic hepatitis C increases the risk of serious liver disease, notably cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Screening and treatment

How to test: Testing is performed using a blood sample.

When to test: The minimum delay before detection is six weeks. The window period for detection ends 12 weeks after exposure. Advances in hepatitis C research have made treatment more accessible. Currently, hepatitis C is essentially curable in the majority of cases after several weeks of treatment.


There is no vaccine to protect against hepatitis C. In the case of consuming intravenous drugs, it is recommended to use sterile materials and never share. Since it is possible to be infected and not have any symptoms, routine screening may be recommended depending on your risk factors. Also, hepatitis C is a disease that can be contracted more than once, meaning that maintaining safe behaviours remains important even after being cured.

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