Hepatitis C (HCV) is a viral infection causing inflammation of the liver. It is transmitted from person to person through unscreened blood transfusions as well as contaminated needles and instruments used for tattooing and body piercing. Sharing contaminated personal care items such as razors and having unprotected sex are less common ways of contracting the virus.
The infection is present worldwide, although its prevalence varies in different regions. Travellers are at risk of infection in countries where the blood supply is not adequately screened and a transfusion is required due to an injury. Humanitarian workers in healthcare settings are also at risk.
In the majority of cases, the infection is asymptomatic – persons do not exhibit symptoms. Those with symptoms usually get ill 6 weeks to 6 months after exposure to the virus. In the acute phase symptoms include fever, fatigue, vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain, lack of appetite, dark urine, and jaundice. Hepatitis C can develop into a chronic infection after many years causing cirrhosis and / or liver cancer. Persons with acute and chronic Hepatitis C are usually monitored to determine the best course of treatment which includes taking antiviral medication.
There is currently no preventive medication or vaccine against Hepatitis C.
Know the risks of the activities you will be engaged in during your trip to prevent any injuries.
Avoid getting new piercings or tattoos on your trip.
Do not share needles or razor blades.
If you need medical or dental care abroad, ensure that it is done by a reputable facility.
Always practice safe sex – use a condom correctly and consistently or abstain from intercourse.
Information last updated: January 2020
Alter M. Viral Hepatitis C.In: Guerrant, R; Walker D; Weller P, eds. Tropical Infectious Diseases. 3rd ed. New York: Saunders Elsevier; 2011: 427-432.
Jong E, McMullen R. Viral Hepatitis in Travellers and Immigrants. In: Jong E, Sanford C, eds. The Travel and Tropical Medicine Manual, 4th ed. Waltham: Saunders Elsevier; 2008: 351-369.
Strickland G T, El-Kamary S. Viral Hepatitis. In: McGill, A; Ryan, E; Hill, D; Solomon, T, eds. Hunter's Tropical Medicine and Emerging Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. New York: Saunders Elsevier; 2013: 290-305.