The Hepatitis C virus
(HCV) is a blood-borne pathogen. This means that
the virus survives in the blood stream of an infected
person and can be spread through contact to someone
else, typically by an exposure that enters the
bloodstream of another person. An example of this
would be individuals who inject drugs into their body
and pass the syringe/needle to someone else to use.
Prior to 1992, blood transfusions from an infected
person could cause a person to become infected to
Hepatitis C is not
spread to another person through casual contact such as
drinking from water glasses or sharing eating utensils.
It is certainly not airborne.
Hepatitis C is caused
by a small virus that can enter the body of a person and
cause both acute and chronic infection. About one-third
of adults with acute infection develop clinical symptoms
and jaundice. Chronic hepatitis C is marked by the
persistence of the hepatitis C virus in the blood for at
least six months after the onset of infection. The chronicity rate of hepatitis C averages 70-80 percent,
but varies by age, sex, race, and immune status. Most
patients with chronic hepatitis C have few if any
symptoms, the most common being fatigue, which is
The major long-term
complications of chronic hepatitis C are cirrhosis,
end-stage liver disease, and liver cancer (hepatocellular
carcinoma), which develop only in a proportion of
patients and only after many years or decades of
The course of
hepatitis C is variable, the severity of illness raging
from a transient, self-limited and asymptomatic
infection to a chronic, progressive liver disease that
leads ultimately to cirrhosis and liver cancer.
What are the risk factors for hepatitis
C? How does a person get this infection?
The transmission of
hepatitis C occurs when blood from an infected person
enters the body of a person who does not have the
hepatitis C virus.
Recommendations for Testing Based on
Risk of Infection:
High Risk of
Recipients of blood and/or
solid organs before 1992
People with undiagnosed liver
Infants born to infected
mothers (after 12-18 months old)
Low Risk of
workers (after known exposure)
People having sex with multiple
People having sex with a steady
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What factors should you know about
preventing hepatitis C or spreading hepatitis C?
There is no vaccine to prevent
Do not shoot drugs; if you
shoot drugs, stop and get into a treatment program.
If you can’t stop, never share needles, syringes,
water, "works", and get vaccinated against
hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
Do not share personal care
items that might have blood on them (razors,
If you are a health care or
public safety worker, always follow routine barrier
precautions and safely handle needles and other
sharps; get vaccinated against hepatitis B. (View
current post-exposure prophylaxis recommendations.)
Consider the risks if you are
thinking about getting a tattoo or body piercing.
You might get infected if the tools have someone
else's blood on them or if the artist or piercer
does not follow good health practices.
HCV can be spread by sex, but
this is rare. If you are having sex with more than
one steady sex partner, use latex condoms* correctly
and every time to prevent the spread of sexually
transmitted diseases. You should also get vaccinated
against hepatitis B.
If you are HCV positive, do not
donate blood, organs, or tissue.
Can chronic hepatitis C be treated?
There are a number of
available treatments for chronic hepatitis C today. It
is important to have a through evaluation by a medical
provider experienced in managing and treating patients
with this disease. Not all people with hepatitis C need
to be treated. It is important to find out the status of
In past decade, the
outcomes of treatment have significantly improved.
Although there are side effects with these therapies,
sometimes the benefit is well worth the time and
commitment. The newest therapies are called pegylated
interferons. These interferons are injectables and are
taken one time per week. The one currently approved by
the FDA is called PEG-Intron by Schering. Another
pegylated interferon is expected to approved soon and
will be called PEGASYS by Roche. Each of these
interferons has the highest efficacy or potential for
response when used in combination with a capsule or
tablet called ribavirin. Sometimes patients are not able
to take the ribavirin due to other medical conditions.
In these cases, a monotherapy, either the pegylated
interferons mentioned or Infergen (interferon) may be
appropriate. Ask your doctor if these treatments would
be right for you.
Two of the hepatitis
viruses are potentially preventable through vaccination
– Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. We recommend that
everyone ask their physician about vaccination to
prevent these diseases.