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What is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C (HCV) is a viral infection causing inflammation of the liver. HCV is a major cause of chronic liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Reported acute HCV cases in the United States increased from, 1,778 in 2012 to 2,138 in 2013. The CDC states an estimate 29,718 cases occurred in 2013, after adjusting for asymptomatic infection and underreporting.

How is hepatitis C spread?

Hepatitis C is spread primarily by direct contact with human blood from a person infected with HCV. This could be from sources such as:

  •  Sharing razors or toothbrushes with contaminated blood on them.
  • Needlestick injuries in health care settings and other health care procedures that involve invasive procedures, such as injections
  • Needles, ink and other equipment used in tattoos or body piercings having infected blood on them or if the artist or piercer does not follow good health-safety practices.

Less commonly, it can spread through sexual contact and childbirth.  The source of HCV infection is unknown in about 10% of the cases.

Who is at risk for hepatitis C?

  • Past or present injection drug users
  • Recipients of blood transfusions or solid organ transplants before July 1992
  • Recipients of clotting factors or solid organ transplants before 1987
  • Patients who ever received long-term hemodialysis treatment
  • Children born to HCV-positive mothers
  • Persons with HIV
  • Patients with symptoms of liver disease

What are the symptoms of hepatitis C?

Most people who are recently infected with hepatitis C do not have symptoms.

Some people have yellowing of the skin (jaundice) that goes away. But fatigue, skin disorders and other problems can occur. Persons who have long-term (chronic) infection often have no symptoms until their liver becomes scarred (cirrhosis).

How is hepatitis C diagnosed?

A blood test indicates an infection with hepatitis C.   A liver biopsy (performed at a hospital or outpatient center) may be recommended if chronic hepatitis C is suspected.

How is hepatitis C treated?

Hepatitis C often is not treated until it becomes chronic, at which point medicines are used that slow or stop the virus from damaging the liver. Blood tests indicate whether the treatment is working. Treatment may last from 24 to 48 weeks. New medicines for chronic hepatitis C are emerging rapidly.

How can hepatitis C be prevented?

Precautions and preventive measures are the first line of defense against HCV.

  • Do not touch anything that might have the blood of an infected person on it, such as razors, scissors, toothbrushes, nail clippers, tampons or sanitary napkins.
  • Don’t share drugs, needles, syringes, or any drug paraphernalia
  • Wipe up all blood spills with disposable towels soaked in 1:10 dilution of household bleach Use rubber or latex gloves to protect your hands from coming into contact with the blood. All soiled materials should be put in a plastic, leak-proof bag for disposal.

Unlike hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine to prevent HCV infection. Therefore, avoidance is the only way not to become infected.