What is it?
Hepatitis C is a virus that rarely causes acute illness, but becomes a chronic disease in most infected people. It can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.
How is it contracted?
Hepatitis C is transmitted through contact with infected blood, contaminated needles, or other sharp instruments, and from infected mother to newborn. It is not easily spread through sex. In about 10% of cases, the route of infection is not known.
What are the symptoms?
Most people with hepatitis C do not feel ill or become sick until 20 years after contracting the virus. Those with long-standing hepatitis may have non-specific symptoms such as fatigue and stomach pains. If hepatitis C progresses to advanced liver disease, patients may develop jaundice, abdominal swelling, internal bleeding or mental confusion (encephalopathy).
How is it treated?
There is currently no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. Pegylated interferon with ribavirin is effective in about 50% of those treated.
How prevalent is hepatitis C?
Approximately 3-4 million Americans are chronically infected. In addition, there are estimated to be 40,000 new infections per year.
What is its cost?
The total economic impact of HCV-related liver disease in the late 1990’s is estimated at $1 to $1.3 billion per year.
Who is at risk?
Persons who ever injected illegal drugs, even once
Persons with selected medical conditions
Those receiving clotting factor concentrates before 1987
Those who were ever on long-term dialysis
Those with persistently raised liver enzymes
Prior recipients of transfusions or organ transplants
Anyone receiving a transfusion prior to 1992
Persons notified that they had received tainted blood
Persons receiving an organ transplant prior to 1992
Those with a recognized exposure
Healthcare workers exposed to HCV-positive blood
Children born to HCV-positive women
How can it be prevented?
Don't use drugs. Safe sex. Protective gloves when exposed to blood. Clean up spilled blood with bleach. Do not share razors or toothbrushes. Get tested if you are at risk!
(updated October 2005)