Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a viral infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis C Virus (HCV). It is spread primarily through contact with blood.

The vast majorities who contract Hepatitis C have no initial symptoms and are thus unaware that they have the infection. Unfortunately nearly 85% of the individuals develop a chronic infection which manifests decades later with cirrhosis of the liver and in some liver cancer.

Chronic liver disease due to Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplantation in the United States.

Where does it occur?

Hepatitis C is prevalent worldwide; the rate may be as high as 15% of the population in some countries in Africa, Asia and South America Map

How is it transmitted?

Hepatitis C is transmitted primarily by activities involving exchange of blood: sharing of drug injection needles/syringes (even a single exposure), tattooing, acupuncture, body piercing etc. Improperly screened blood and blood products and ineffectively sterilized medical and dental equipment are another means of transmission. There is a small risk of contracting it through unprotected sex. Mosquitoes DO NOT transmit this virus.

Is it contagious from person to person?

It is contagious from person to person if engaged in activities involving exchange of blood; like sharing of intravenous needles, syringes, tattooing, body piercing etc. There is a small risk of transmitting the infection through sexual intercourse.

What is the risk for travelers?

Risk is low unless engaged in sharing of drug injection needles/syringes, tattooing, acupuncture, body piercing etc. If you engage in or require medical/dental care and are exposed to improperly screened blood, blood products or are subject to ineffectively sterilized medical or dental products you are at risk for Hepatitis C.

How soon after exposure will one develop symptoms?

The majority of individuals do not have any symptoms. If symptoms do occur, it is usually seen 2-3 months after exposure, although it can range from being seen as early as 2 weeks to as late as 6 months.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Nearly 80% of those who contract Hepatitis C develop NO symptoms. Generally, if symptoms do develop, it consists of gradual onset of fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain and perhaps jaundice. All symptoms resolve in 1-2 weeks.

Individuals remain asymptomatic with chronic infection for nearly 20 -30 years before developing cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer in some.

Are there any lab tests to diagnose the illness?

Blood antibody test like Hep C Ab and PCR tests are available to make the diagnosis. If one has an unexplained persistent mild elevation in liver enzymes, it maybe a clue that needs to be further pursued to exclude Hepatitis C infection if you have any risk factors.

Is there any treatment?

There is no current standard anti-viral treatment for ACUTE Hepatitis C infection. If one were to diagnose an acute active hepatitis C infection, there are suggestions that treatment with interferon may help clear the virus from the body.

CHRONIC infections are treated with combinations of interferon and ribavarin are helpful in arresting the progression of liver disease.

What preventive measures can be taken?

There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C at this time.

One needs to abstain from sharing drug injection needles/syringes, tattooing, body piercing and acupuncture if sterilization is not assured, avoid blood and blood product transfusions if proper screening is not assured, avoid medical and dental procedures if sterilization is not assured and avoid unprotected sex with infected individuals.

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