Hepatitis C

Overview

Symptoms

Risk Factors

Testing


Treatment

Staying Healthy

Resources

Data

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Overview

Hepatitis C attacks the liver but can remain without symptoms for decades. HCV is not vaccine preventable and is the most common blood borne infection in the United States (U.S.). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) an estimated 3-4 million persons in the U.S. have chronic Hepatitis C virus infection. Most people do not know they are infected because they don’t look or feel sick. Of those, it is estimated that 2.7 million are currently living with chronic HCV infection. HCV related Chronic Liver Disease (CLD) is the leading indication for liver transplant among adults in the United States.

HCV is most often spread by direct blood-to blood contact. HCV is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. The HCV can live in dried blood and on environmental surfaces for days. The virus can be spread easily to others through blood, even in amounts too small to see.

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Symptoms

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Approximately 70%-80% of people with acute Hepatitis C do not have any symptoms. Some people, however, can have mild to severe symptoms that occur from 2 weeks to 6 months after being infected, including:

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Risk Factors

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Injection Drug Use (IDU)

The sharing of needles, syringes and other IDU equipment is the most common mode of HCV transmission in the US. It can also be spread by other drug use equipment (i.e, items used for snorting/straws, cottons, cookers, etc).

Past injection drug use is also a risk, including those who injected only one time or many years ago.

Health-Care Setting:

HCV was commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants before 1992 when widespread screening of the blood supply began. HCV was also spread through blood products (for clotting problems) made before 1987. HCV can be transmitted through needlestick injuries as well.

Perinatal Transmission:

Transmission of HCV from infected mothers to infants occurs about 6% of the time. The CDC states that transmission risk is not related to the following:

Tattooing and Piercings:

Transmission of HCV is possible when poor infection-control practices are used during tattooing or piercing, or if the tattoo or piercing instruments are not sterilized correctly. HCV can also live in tattoo inks so they should never be re-used. Body art is becoming increasingly popular in the United States, and unregulated tattooing and piercing are known to occur in prisons and other informal or unregulated settings.

Sexual Contact:

The CDC states that sexual contact is an “inefficient means” of HCV transmission, however sexual transmission is possible and the numbers of HCV infections traced to sexual transmission is growing. The likelihood of HCV transmission through sexual contact is related to the following:

Other Risks can include:

People with current or past risk behaviors should consider HCV testing and consult with a physician. HCV testing is currently not available at most public health clinics in Missouri. For information about HCV testing that is available, call the HCV Program Coordinator at 573-751-6439.

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Testing

Doctors use a blood test, called a Hepatitis C Antibody Test, to find out if a person has ever been infected with Hepatitis C. The Hepatitis C Antibody Test, sometimes called the Anti-HCV Test, looks for antibodies to the Hepatitis C virus. Antibodies are chemicals released into the bloodstream when someone gets infected.

Non-Reactive or Negative Hepatitis C Antibody Test

A non-reactive or negative antibody test means that a person does not have Hepatitis C.

Reactive or Positive Hepatitis C Antibody Test

Persons for Whom HCV Testing Is Recommended

Note: For persons who might have been exposed to HCV within the past 6 months, testing for HCV RNA or follow-up testing for HCV antibody is recommended.

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Treatment

For the latest treatment guidelines, see CDC’s website at: http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HCV/index.htm.
Persons who receive and early diagnosis of HCV infection and receive care are more likely to have a sustained virological response (SVR - meaning that the virus is not detected in blood for 6 months after treatment) to drug therapy. Since the liver has incredible regenerative ability, achieving SVR as quickly as possible is important because some liver damage can be reversed if the cause of the damage is removed.

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Staying Healthy w/ Hepatitis

Not everyone needs treatment right away, but it’s important to be monitored regularly by an experienced doctor and discuss treatment options of the best way to keep you healthy.