How Common Is Hepatitis C In The United States
In the United States, hepatitis C is the most common chronic viral infection found in blood and spread through contact with blood.14
Researchers estimate that about 2.7 million to 3.9 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C.13 Many people who have hepatitis C dont have symptoms and dont know they have this infection.
New screening efforts and more effective hepatitis C treatments are helping doctors identify and cure more people with the disease. With more screening and treatment, hepatitis C may become less common in the future. Researchers estimate that hepatitis C could be a rare disease in the United States by 2036.17
How Can You Prevent The Spread Of Hepatitis C
Now that you know how you get hepatitis C, you can take steps to protect yourself from the virus. For instance:
- Avoid sharing needles or other paraphernalia related to intravenous drugs.
- Wear gloves if youre a health care worker or otherwise exposed to needles or potentially infected blood.
- Use barrier methodsaka condomsoutside of sexually monogamous relationships.
- Dont share toothbrushes or other dental equipment, nail clippers, or shaving tools.
- If youre getting a tattoo or piercing, make sure the artist or piercer uses sterile ink and needles.
If you have the hepatitis C virus, you can prevent passing it along to others by following those same steps, in addition to:
- Covering any open sores or wounds.
- Telling all your health and dental care providers you have the virus.
- Avoiding donating blood.
What Do Hepatitis C Symptoms Look Like
Hepatitis C infection can go through two stages: acute and chronic. In the early, or acute stage, most people don’t have symptoms. If they do develop symptoms, these can include:
- flu-like symptoms, tiredness, high temperature and aches and pains
- loss of appetite
- tummy pain
- jaundice, meaning your skin and the whites of your eyes turn yellow
While for some people, the infection will clear without treatment, in most cases, acute infection will develop into long-term chronic infection. Chronic infection may not become apparent for a number of years until the liver displays signs of damage. These symptoms can include:
- mental confusion and depression these are specific to hepatitis C
- constantly feeling tired
- nausea, vomiting or tummy pain
- dark urine
- feeling bloated
- joint and muscle pain
Without treatment, chronic hepatitis C can cause scarring of the liver , which can cause the liver to stop working properly. A small number of people with cirrhosis develop liver cancer and these complications can lead to death. Other than a liver transplant, theres no cure for cirrhosis. However, treatments can help relieve some of the symptoms.
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What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of Hcv Infection
Hepatitis C can be a “silent but deadly” infection. Most people with HCV have no symptoms. But even without symptoms, they can develop health problems decades later and can still pass the disease to others.
- nausea, vomiting, and lack of appetite
- belly pain
- joint pain
Prevention Is The Best Medicine
Even though hepatitis C rarely spreads within a household, if you or a family member have the disease, it’s wise to take precautions to prevent its spread especially if anyone in your home is immune compromised, or has cuts or open sores that increase the risk of infection.
In general, use these common sense preventive tips:
- Unless you are in a long-term, monogamous relationship, practice safe sex.
- Clean up spilled or dried blood with a bleach-based cleaning solution and wear rubber gloves.
- Do not share razors.
- Do not share toothbrushes. “Though hepatitis C is not transmitted through saliva, there might be blood on the toothbrush,” Reau says.
Note that hepatitis C is not transmitted by sharing eating utensils, hugging, kissing, coughing or sneezing.
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Direct Exposure To Blood
Exposure to large amounts of contaminated blood increases the risk for hepatitis C transmission. If you get a cut and need help tending it, whoever helps you should first put on disposable gloves to prevent exposure in case he or she has a cut. You can also help prevent hepatitis C transmission by covering any cuts or sores with bandages until theyre healed and disposing of used bandages properly.
Uninfected people should take steps to avoid getting someone elses blood in their eyes, nose, and mouth. If an uninfected persons skin is exposed to contaminated blood, wash the area with soap and water immediately. If blood gets in the eyes, rinse them with running water right away and call a doctor to find out about further steps that should be taken.
When cleaning blood from surfaces, Dr. Lee recommends using a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water. Dried blood should also be handled with care because the virus can live for several days outside the body.
The CDC recommends that if youve ever tested positive for hepatitis C, you should abstain from donating blood, organs, or semen.
Spread Of Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood contact when blood from a person with hepatitis C enters another persons bloodstream.
The most common way people become infected with hepatitis C in Australia is by sharing injecting equipment such as needles, syringes, spoons and tourniquets. It is possible to be infected with hepatitis C after only one risk event.
Hepatitis C may also be spread through:
- tattooing and body piercing with equipment that has not been properly cleaned, disinfected or sterilised such as backyard tattoos’. Registered parlours with appropriate infection control procedures are not a risk
- needlestick injuries in a healthcare setting
- receiving blood transfusions in Australia prior to 1990 before hepatitis C virus testing of blood donations was introduced
- medical procedures, blood transfusions or blood products and mass immunisation programs provided in a country other than Australia
- pregnancy or childbirth there is a 5% chance of a mother with chronic hepatitis C infection passing on the virus to her baby during pregnancy or childbirth.
Breastfeeding is safe, however if nipples are cracked or bleeding cease breastfeeding until they have healed.
Less likely possible routes of transmission of hepatitis C include:
Hepatitis C cannot be transmitted by:
- sharing food, cups or cutlery
- shaking hands or day-to-day physical contact.
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Who Is More Likely To Get Hepatitis C
People more likely to get hepatitis C are those who
- have injected drugs
- had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992
- have hemophilia and received clotting factor before 1987
- have been on kidney dialysis
- have been in contact with blood or infected needles at work
- have had tattoos or body piercings
- have worked or lived in a prison
- were born to a mother with hepatitis C
- are infected with HIV
- have had more than one sex partner in the last 6 months or have a history of sexually transmitted disease
- are men who have or had sex with men
In the United States, injecting drugs is the most common way that people get hepatitis C.13
Could I Get Hep C In The Hospital
Before the medical community identified hepatitis C as a dangerous virus, it existed in the blood supply that hospitals used for transfusions or organ transplants. People got hepatitis C if they received a transfusion before we knew how to test for it, says Dr. Fox. Today though, blood is screened before being administered to patients, so the odds of getting hep C from it is extremely unlikely.
There are also cases of babies who are born with hep C, but that has nothing to do with hospital itself: If a woman has the virus, there is a 6% chance her infant will be born with it, too, according to the CDC. For that reason, its important to be tested for hepatitis C if you are thinking about getting pregnant, and also during pregnancy.
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Getting Tested For Hepatitis C
Seek medical advice if you have persistent symptoms of hepatitis C or there’s a risk you’re infected, even if you do not have any symptoms.
A blood test can be carried out to see if you have the infection.
GPs, sexual health clinics, genitourinary medicine clinics or drug treatment services all offer testing for hepatitis C.
Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent or limit any damage to your liver, as well as help ensure the infection is not passed on to other people.
Should I Be Screened For Hepatitis C
Doctors usually recommend one-time screening of all adults ages 18 to 79 for hepatitis C. Screening is testing for a disease in people who have no symptoms. Doctors use blood tests to screen for hepatitis C. Many people who have hepatitis C dont have symptoms and dont know they have hepatitis C. Screening tests can help doctors diagnose and treat hepatitis C before it causes serious health problems.
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What Are The Treatments For Hepatitis C
Treatment for hepatitis C is with antiviral medicines. They can cure the disease in most cases.
If you have acute hepatitis C, your health care provider may wait to see if your infection becomes chronic before starting treatment.
If your hepatitis C causes cirrhosis, you should see a doctor who specializes in liver diseases. Treatments for health problems related to cirrhosis include medicines, surgery, and other medical procedures. If your hepatitis C leads to liver failure or liver cancer, you may need a liver transplant.
Can You Get Hep C More Than Once
Some people think hepatitis C is a one-and-done viruskind of like the chickenpox. But it is possible to get it more than once in your life, Dr. Fox says. If somebody had the infection, was cured of it, then goes back to the same behavior that got them infected in the first place, they can get re-infected, she explains. The chance of re-infection is lower though, suggesting that you may develop some degree of immunity after your first infection.
Still though, hepatitis C can lead to severe liver damage if left untreated, so if youre engaging in behaviors that put you at risk of getting or transmitting hepatitis C, talk with your doctor. A physician can answer your specific concerns and let you know whether or how often you should get screened. Thankfully, curing hepatitis C is easier than ever thanks to new, highly effective drugsbut better yet, you can avoid getting it in the first place!
Hepatitis C Transmission: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. . Hepatitis C Questions and Answers for the Public. cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/cfaq.htm
Hepatitis C Screening: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. . Testing Recommendations for Hepatitis C Virus Infection. cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/guidelines.htm
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But Even If You’ve Been Cured It Can Have Lifelong Health Implications
“Hepatitis C is a lot more than just a liver disease,” Reau says. “It has been associated with many medical conditions, such as an increased risk of developing diabetes, kidney disease and cancer.”
While curing hepatitis C significantly reduces the risk of serious complications, like liver failure, liver cancer and the need for transplantation, it doesn’t completely eliminate the health risks associated with the disease.
“Hep C is linked to scarring of the liver or cirrhosis and the more scar tissue that develops, the greater the likelihood of complications,” Reau says. “If there is a lot of scarring, you will need lifelong monitoring.”
Reau also recommends leading a healthy lifestyle to help prevent re-infection and further liver damage: Limit alcohol consumption, control your weight, avoid high-risk activities and manage diabetes if you have it.
Why Getting Tested Is Important
A blood test is one of the only ways to confirm a diagnosis of hepatitis C. Additionally, hepatitis C often has no visible symptoms for many years.
Because of this, its important to be tested if you believe youve been exposed to the virus. Getting a timely diagnosis can help ensure you receive treatment before permanent liver damage occurs.
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Hepatitis C And Blood Spills
When cleaning and removing blood spills, use standard infection control precautions at all times:
- Cover any cuts or wounds with a waterproof dressing.
- Wear single-use gloves and use paper towel to mop up blood spills.
- Clean the area with warm water and detergent, then rinse and dry.
- Place used gloves and paper towels into a plastic bag, then seal and dispose of them in a rubbish bin.
- Wash your hands in warm, soapy water then dry them thoroughly.
- Put bloodstained tissues, sanitary towels or dressings in a plastic bag before throwing them away.
What Is The Treatment For Hepatitis
Each type of hepatitis is treated differently.
Hepatitis A often goes away on its own and home treatment is all that is needed to help the liver recover, such as:
- Avoiding alcohol
- Avoiding certain medicines that can be harmful to the liver
Hepatitis B often goes away on its own in about 6 months, and can also be treated at home with the above remedies. Other treatments for hepatitis B include:
- Antiviral medications
- Liver transplant in severe cases
Treatment for hepatitis C is effective on certain forms of the hepatitis C virus. The choice of medications depends on the type of hepatitis C you have, whether you have been treated for the illness before, how much liver damage has occurred, any other underlying medical issues, and other medicines you take. Treatment for hepatitis C usually involves 8 to 12 weeks of oral antiviral medications, such as:
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Sharing Of Household Items
Very low risk
It is very rare for hep C to be transmitted through the use of household items, but it is best not to share razor blades, tweezers and toothbrushes. Brushing your teeth can cause bleeding gums, so sharing your toothbrush can cause blood-to-blood contact. Razor blades and tweezers can also possibly lead to blood-to-blood contact between people .
What Causes Hepatitis C
The hepatitis C virus causes hepatitis C. The hepatitis C virus spreads through contact with an infected persons blood. Contact can occur by
- sharing drug needles or other drug materials with an infected person
- getting an accidental stick with a needle that was used on an infected person
- being tattooed or pierced with tools or inks that were not kept sterilefree from all viruses and other microorganismsand were used on an infected person before they were used on you
- having contact with the blood or open sores of an infected person
- using an infected persons razor, toothbrush, or nail clippers
- being born to a mother with hepatitis C
- having unprotected sex with an infected person
You cant get hepatitis C from
- being coughed or sneezed on by an infected person
- drinking water or eating food
- hugging an infected person
- shaking hands or holding hands with an infected person
- sharing spoons, forks, and other eating utensils
- sitting next to an infected person
A baby cant get hepatitis C from breast milk.18
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How Is Hepatitis C Transmitted
The way the virus does spread is through contact with the blood of someone who is infected. Most commonly, this occurs through one of the following methods.
Intravenous drug usePeople who share needles or other supplies while injecting drugs like cocaine and heroin have a high risk for contracting hepatitis C. Even if you only used these types of drugs once years ago, there is still a chance you are infected.
Needlestick injuriesHealth care or other safety workers may come into contact with an infected persons blood if theyre accidentally stuck with a contaminated needle or other sharp object. Parents often worry about their children developing hepatitis C after finding a needle on the ground or at the beach. While thats possible, its unlikely, Dr. Nachman saysthe most commonly discarded needles are insulin needles, which typically dont contain enough blood to transmit hepatitis C. Plus, the virus can only survive about a day outside of the body.
Medical proceduresNow, donated blood and organs are screened for the hepatitis C virus. However, before 1992, that wasnt the case, so people who received blood transfusions or an organ transplant before that time might have become infected.
Tattoos and piercingsThese days, licensed and regulated tattoo parlors dont pose much of a danger. However, piercings or tattoos received in unregulated settings, such as prisons, may spread hepatitis C, Dr. Kodali says.
Can You Pass Hepatitis C To A Sex Partner
Sex and Sexuality
Yes, but it is not likely. Compared to hepatitis B virus and the human immunodeficiency virus , it is less likely that you will spread the hepatitis C virus to your sex partner.
If you have one long-term sex partner, and one of you has hepatitis C and one of you does not, you do not need to change your sex habits at all. But, if either you or your partner is worried about the small chance of spreading the hepatitis C virus, you can use latex condoms. This will make it almost impossible to spread the virus. Long-term partners of people with hepatitis C should get tested for the virus. If the test is negative, you will probably not need to repeat it.
If you have more than one sex partner, you are more likely to spread the virus. In this case, reduce the number of sex partners you have, practice safer sex, and always use latex condoms.
There have been outbreaks of sexually transmitted HCV infection among men who have HIV and who have sex with men. It is recommended that men who have sex with men use condoms to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted HCV and other sexually transmitted infections.
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