Males tend to experience the hepatitis C virus at higher rates than females. Many factors can put males at risk of contracting hepatitis C and experiencing its symptoms. However, scientists are unsure why this is the case.

According to a 2019 report by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, doctors diagnose 21 males with hepatitis C for every 10 females with the condition. An estimated 2.4 million people are living with hepatitis C in the United States.

Males are also more likely than females to have severe side effects and quick progression to liver scarring, or cirrhosis.

Researchers do not know exactly why males have more severe side effects and faster disease progression. However, a 2017 study suggests that the hormone estradiol, which is a female hormone, may interfere with the assembly and release of the virus.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Hepatitis C is a type of liver infection. The hepatitis C virus (HCV) causes the infection. It spreads through contact with the blood of a person with hepatitis C. Today, the most common route of infection is through the sharing of needles or other apparatus that people use to prepare and inject drugs.

The virus can cause liver damage and even lifelong cirrhosis or cancer.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 58 million people are living with chronic hepatitis C globally. There is currently no vaccine to protect against the infection.

Types of hepatitis C

To date, researchers have identified seven HCV genotypes and 67 subtypes. A genotype is the specific strain of the HCV that a person acquires. Genotypes are distinct groups of the virus.

The genotype of the HCV affects how a person responds to treatment.

The genotypes of hepatitis C include:

  • Genotype 1: This genotype accounts for about 70–75% of all HCV infections in the U.S. Genotypes 1a and 1b play a role in approximately 60% of global HCV infections.
  • Genotype 2: About 13–15% of all HCV infections in the U.S. involve this genotype.
  • Genotype 3: This genotype is most common in Southeast Asia. There is also an association between this genotype and drug misuse.
  • Genotype 4: This genotype is more prevalent in the Middle East, Egypt, and central Africa.
  • Genotype 5: Genotype 5 predominantly occurs in South Africa.
  • Genotype 6: This genotype is most common in China, Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia.
  • Genotype 7: Genotype 7 is most prevalent in central Africa.

The most common genotypes in the U.S. are genotypes 1, 2, and 3.

Hepatitis C may begin with an acute infection, which often does not cause symptoms. However, some people may experience a flu-like illness within 2–12 weeks of exposure to the virus.

When an acute hepatitis C infection does cause symptoms, they may include:

In some people, the body clears hepatitis C without any medical intervention. However, this is not always the case, and the virus may progress to a chronic infection.

Healthcare professionals sometimes call hepatitis C a “silent infection” because a lack of symptoms can mean that people have it for a long time without being aware.

Chronic hepatitis C may lead to liver disease, persistent fatigue, and depression.

If symptoms do arise, a person may wish to consult a doctor for a diagnosis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), men who have sex with men (MSM) have an increased risk of viral hepatitis, including hepatitis A, B, and C.

However, it is much more common for hepatitis C to transmit through the use of shared needles than through sexual contact.

People are also more likely to get hepatitis C if they:

Some risk factors also cause a person to be more likely to experience liver scarring from hepatitis C. Excessive scarring may lead to liver failure. According to the CDC, the risk factors for developing cirrhosis include:

A person should speak with a doctor about how to treat hepatitis C and reduce the risk of their condition worsening.

It is very possible that the number of people with hepatitis C is much higher than estimates suggest, as some people do not know that they have the condition.

For this reason, the CDC recommends that the following individuals undergo testing for hepatitis C:

  • children born to a mother with hepatitis C
  • people who currently use or formerly used injectable drugs
  • any person taking clotting factor concentrates that manufacturers produced before 1987
  • any person who underwent a blood transfusion or solid organ transplant before July 1992
  • any person undergoing hemodialysis
  • people with abnormal levels of alanine aminotransferase (ALT)
  • healthcare workers
  • people who have HIV

A blood test can determine whether or not a person has HCV.

Hepatitis C is capable of causing a chronic infection that could lead to serious complications, including cirrhosis and liver cancer.

However, available treatments can cure hepatitis C in more than 90% of people. People usually take these medications for 8–12 weeks.

A person can get the virus again, though. Also, medications that may cure hepatitis C do not reverse the damage that the liver has already sustained in the form of scarring.

As a result, a doctor will usually recommend refraining from drinking alcohol and not taking medications that the liver usually metabolizes. This is to reduce the risk of further liver damage.

There are vaccines to prevent a person from contracting hepatitis A and hepatitis B, but there is no vaccine for hepatitis C.

It is important that people take preventive measures to ensure that they do not get the virus.

Examples of these measures include:

  • using barrier methods, such as condoms, during sexual activities
  • avoiding sharing needles
  • seeking reputable tattoo and body piercing parlors for any body art

If a person suspects that they may be at risk of hepatitis C, they should seek advice from a doctor.

Below, we answer some of the most common questions about hepatitis C in males.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis C in males?

Most people who acquire an acute HCV infection do not have any specific symptoms.

However, a person experiencing an acute HCV infection may experience:

  • tiredness
  • nausea
  • dark urine
  • jaundice
  • appetite loss
  • a minor fever
  • gray-colored feces
  • abdominal pain
  • joint pain

How long can a person live after contracting hepatitis C?

The length of time a person can live after contracting hepatitis C depends on a number of factors, including whether the infection is acute or chronic and whether other complications have occurred.

About 75–85% of people with acute hepatitis C will develop chronic hepatitis C. According to the CDC, approximately 5–25 in 100 people will develop cirrhosis within 10–20 years.

A 2019 study in England found that the mortality rate for individuals with HCV infection was 2.3 times higher than it was in the general population. Among those aged 30–69 years, the mortality rate was 4.6 times higher.

What does hepatitis C pain feel like?

A person with hepatitis C may experience right upper quadrant pain. This quadrant is the location of organs such as the right kidney and the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas.

A person may feel this as abdominal pain, which can cause severe discomfort.

Some people may also experience aches and pains in their joints. The most commonly affected joints are the joints in the hands and wrists. The pain in the joints can range from mild to severe.

Hepatitis C affects males more often than females.

If a person with hepatitis C seeks immediate medical care, a doctor can diagnose and treat them before they experience severe complications, such as cirrhosis.

Anyone with known risk factors for hepatitis C should talk with a doctor about undergoing testing.