Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is the
most common chronic bloodborne infection in the United States. It is
estimated that nearly 4 million Americans have been infected with
Hepatitis C. Nearly 40 percent of chronic liver disease is HCV-related,
resulting in nearly 10,000 deaths per year.
HCV is spread primarily by large or
repeated direct exposure to the blood of an infected person.
Persons at risk for HCV infection might also be at risk for
infection with hepatitis B or HIV.
Transfusion associated infections
occurred prior to blood donor screening which was initiated in
1992. The chances of becoming infected with HCV via a blood
transfusion are now less than one per every 100,000 transfused
units. After a needle stick or sharps exposure to HCV positive
blood, about two percent will become infected with hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C is not spread through
sneezing, hugging, coughing, food or water, sharing eating utensils
or drinking glasses. Persons should not be excluded from work,
school, play, child-care or other settings based on their positive
HCV infection status.
To further decrease the chances of HCV
infection, always follow routine barrier precautions and safely
handle needles and other sharps. Additionally, avoid sharing
personal care items that might have blood on them, such as razors
and toothbrushes. There are several blood tests that can be done to
determine if you have been infected with HCV.
It is possible to detect HCV through
blood analysis within two weeks of initial infection with the
virus. A doctor may feel it is necessary to order a combination of
blood tests to confirm a positive HCV test result.
Approximately 75 percent of all persons
infected with HCV will eventually develop long-term infection,
leading to chronic liver disease. While up to 15 percent of those
infected will develop cirrhosis of the liver over a period of 20 to
30 years, less than 3 percent of infected patients die from
complications stemming from long term HCV infection.
Medical and dental procedures conducted
in most settings in the United States do not pose a risk for the
spread of HCV. There have, however, been some reports that HCV has
been spread between patients in hemodialysis units where supplies or
equipment may have been shared between patients.
TREATMENT OF HCV
is no vaccine to prevent HCV infection. Persons infected with viral
hepatitis C should be evaluated by their doctor for liver disease.
Antiviral drugs such as interferon used alone or in combination with
ribavirin, are approved for the treatment of persons with chronic
hepatitis C. Interferon is an effective treatment in about 20
percent of HCV infected individuals. Interferon combined with
ribaviron is effective with approximately forty percent of HCV
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