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Fact Sheet: Hepatitis C



What is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). This virus is found in the blood of persons who have the disease. Hepatitis C can lead to liver damage and sometimes death due to liver breakdown.


How common is hepatitis C?

Nearly five million people in the U. S. are infected with hepatitis C, and 200 million are infected worldwide. Currently, 8,000 to 10,000 people die each year in the U.S. from Hepatitis C.


How is hepatitis C spread?

Hepatitis C is spread from one person to another primarily by direct contact with human blood. It has also been proven to spread through sexual contact and from infected mothers to their infants at the time of birth.


How long is a person infected with hepatitis C contagious?

Studies have yet to find out how long a person is able to spread hepatitis C to others, but it is possible that is lifelong.


Who is at risk to get hepatitis C?

High Risk:
  • Persons who received a blood transfusion, a blood product, or an organ transplant at any time before July 1992
  • Persons who received treatment for blood clotting problems (hemophilia) before 1987
  • Anyone who has been informed that they received blood from a
    hepatitis C-infected donor
  • Persons with ongoing elevated liver function tests, even slightly above normal
  • Hemodialysis patients (long-term)
  • Injection drug users, even if experimented just once
Lower Risk:
  • Persons who have had a job with exposure to infected blood (health care workers)
  • Persons who sniff drugs
  • Anyone who has shared personal care items, such as razors, toothbrushes, pierced earrings, fingernail files, and clippers with infected persons
  • Persons who have tattoos or body piercings
  • Persons who have had sex with many partners without using a condom

What are the signs and symptoms of hepatitis C?

Signs and symptoms of hepatitis C are: Most common:
  • Always tired
  • Mental confusion or foggy feeling
  • Lack of concentration, attention or focus
  • Eating problems
  • Depression (feeling sad and hopeless)
  • On-and-off nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach pain and swelling
  • Loss of appetite
Other signs and symptoms
  • Mood swings
  • Night sweats
  • Flu-like illness
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of eyes)

How is hepatitis C diagnosed?

Many blood tests can be done to find out if someone has HCV. The doctor may order just one or several of these tests. The following are the types of tests your doctor may order:
  • Anti-HCV (Antibody to HCV) Enzyme Immunoassay (EIA) This test is usually done first. It should be tested again if positive.
  • Anti-HCV Recombinant Immunoblot (RIBA) This is the additional test used to check a positive EIA test. Anti-HCV does not tell whether the infection is new, long-term, or even if it is no longer present. Additional tests are required to learn whether the virus is still in your body.
  • Generic polymerase chain reaction (PCR) This test tells whether the virus is currently growing in your body. If it is growing, you are contagious, and can spread the disease to others.


Who should get tested for hepatitis C?

If you are at a high risk to get hepatitis C or have signs of liver disease (such as elevated liver enzyme tests, i.e., ALT or alanine aminotransferase), it is a good idea to contact your doctor or health clinic for information on where you can get tested. If you are at low risk, you may want to consider talking with your doctor about your options.
The Oregon Health Plan currently covers testing and treatment of
hepatitis C


What is the treatment for hepatitis C?

Acute infection can be treated with interferon. However, most people with acute infection do not even know they are infected. For patients with long-term (chronic) infection, interferon, along with ribavirin, has been successful 30 - 40% of the time.


How can hepatitis C be prevented?

    Currently there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. In order to protect yourself from being infected
    you should avoid all contact with infected blood.
  • Don't share needles, syringes, water, cotton or cookers for shooting drugs, medication, or vitamins
  • Don't share straws for snorting drugs
  • Don't share toothbrushes, razors, or other personal care products
  • Make sure any tattoos or piercings are done by licensed professionals, using sterile equipment and clean latex gloves each time
  • Limit sexual activity to one partner
  • Use latex condoms every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex

Where can I get more information about getting tested for hepatitis C?

If you think you may have hepatitis C it is a good idea to contact your doctor or health clinic for information on where you can get tested. If you can't afford a doctor and/or are not currently on a health plan or insurance, call 1-800-SAFENET (723-3638) for information on low-cost clinics near you.

Issued by: The Oregon Health Services
Date: November, 2000
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