Prevention First

HEPATITIS C

Hepatitis C is an infectious disease affecting the liver, caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The infection is often asymptomatic, but once established, chronic infection can progress. In some cases other complications occur including liver failure.

Causes

  • Hepatitis C is a liver disease that is caused by infection with the hepatitis C virus.
  • You can not get hepatitis C from casual contact such as hugging, kissing, sneezing, coughing, or sharing food or water with someone.
  • You can get hepatitis C if you come into contact with the blood of someone who has hepatitis C.
  • The most common way to get hepatitis C is by sharing needles and other equipment used to inject illegal drugs.
  • If you are injecting drugs, the best way to protect yourself is by not sharing needles or other equipment with others.
  • In rare cases, a mother with hepatitis C spreads the virus to her baby at birth, or a health care worker is accidentally exposed to blood that is infected with hepatitis C.
  • Experts are not sure whether you can get hepatitis C through sexual contact. If there is a risk of getting the virus through sexual contact, it is very small.
  • If you live with someone who has hepatitis C or you know someone with hepatitis C, you can help protect yourself by not sharing anything that may have blood on it, such as razors, toothbrushes and nail clippers.
  • The incubation period is the time it takes for symptoms to appear after the hepatitis C virus has entered your body and it is any time from 2 weeks to 6 months.
  • Anyone who has hepatitis C can spread the virus to someone else. If testing shows you have hepatitis C, do not share needles and keep cuts, scrapes and blisters covered.

Signs and symptoms

  • In the minority of patients who experience acute phase symptoms, they are generally mild and nonspecific and rarely lead to a specific diagnosis of hepatitis C.
  • Symptoms of acute hepatitis C infection include decreased appetite, fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice, itching and flu-like symptoms.
  • Chronic hepatitis C is defined as infection with the hepatitis C virus persisting for more than six months. Clinically, it is often asymptomatic (without symptoms) and it is mostly discovered accidentally (e.g. usual checkup).
  • The natural course of chronic hepatitis C varies considerably from one person to another. Although almost all people infected with HCV have evidence of inflammation on liver biopsy.
  • Once chronic hepatitis C has progressed, signs and symptoms may appear that are generally caused by either decreased liver function or increased pressure in the liver circulation, a condition known as portal hypertension.
  • Possible signs and symptoms of liver cirrhosis include ascites (accumulation of fluid in the abdomen), bruising and bleeding tendency, enlarged veins especially in stomach and jaundice.

Prevention and risk

According to Centers for Disease Control, hepatitis C virus is spread by exposure to large quantities of blood, either through the skin or by injection such as:

  • Injection drug use.
  • Receipt of donated blood, blood products and organs.
  • Needle stick injuries in healthcare settings.
  • Birth to an HCV-infected mother.
  • People can be exposed to HCV via inadequately or improperly sterilized medical or dental equipment.
  • Medical and dental personnel, first responders (e.g., firefighters, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, law enforcement officers and military) can be exposed to HCV through accidental exposure to blood through accidental needle sticks or blood spatter to the eyes or open wounds.
  • Tattooing dyes, stylets and piercing implements can transmit HCV-infected blood from one person to another if proper sterilization techniques are not followed.
  • Sex with an HCV-infected person (an inefficient means of transmission).
  • Sharing personal items contaminated with infectious blood, such as razors or toothbrushes (also inefficient vectors of transmission).
  • Strategies such as the provision of new needles and syringes and education about safer drug injection procedures, greatly decrease the risk of hepatitis C spreading between injecting drug users.
  • No vaccine protects against hepatitis C, or helps to treat it. Vaccines are under development and some have shown encouraging results.