Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is an extremely contagious blood borne disease that can also be sexually transmitted. Hepatitis C is primarily transmitted from people sharing needles when shooting drugs. Transmission can also occur if needles used for tattooing or body piercing are not properly sterilized and are then reused. Before 1992, when widespread screening of blood products became the norm, transfusions were a common mode of transmission. In the early 1960s, as many as one in every five transfused blood products was contaminated with Hepatitis C; now the risk is about one in 100,000.2 One of every 30 infants born to mothers with hepatitis C is infected during the birth process.3 Hepatitis C can also be sexually transmitted. Multiple sex partners increase the risk for infection. Hepatitis C is not transmitted through the type of casual contact that occurs in a workplace. About three out of four infected people show no signs or symptoms of infection. Due to liver damage, an infected person may experience jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), severe fatigue, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. A significant number of people with hepatitis C have lifelong infections that can cause liver failure, cancer and death.

Hepatitis C can be diagnosed through a variety of simple blood tests. There is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C, although vaccination against hepatitis A and B is recommended to prevent any further damage to the liver. For the same reason, consumption of alcohol is not recommended for people infected with hepatitis C. There are a couple of drug therapies available, but they tend to be expensive, have to be used for extended periods of time and can cause serious side effects, including depression. Even when taken diligently, the drugs are not always effective. Studies are lacking, but given the way hepatitis C is transmitted, condoms would not be expected to eliminate your risk of infection, though they might reduce it some.

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Viral Hepatitis C Fact Sheet. Available athttp://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/hepatitis/c/fact.htm. Accessed July 22, 2003. 2 American Red Cross. Hepatitis C Lookback. Available at:http://chapters.redcross.org/ca/norcal/phys/transfus/hepatitis.htm. Accessed July 21, 2003. 3 Ferrero S, Lungaro P, Bruzzone BM, Gotta C, Bentivoglio G, Ragni N. Prospective study of mother-to-infant transmission of hepatitis C virus: A 10-year survey (1990-2000). Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 2003;82:229-234.

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