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> Health Factsheets Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C


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Hepatitis C virus (HCV) causes liver disease and it is found in the blood of persons who are infected. HCV is spread by contact with the blood of an infected person.

Hepatitis C infects about 25,000 people each year with most developing chronic infection. However, many of those with chronic hepatitis C do not even know they are infected. Those individuals with chronic infection are at risk for developing chronic liver diseases such as cirrhosis and cancer of the liver. Individuals who injected drugs are at highest risk for infection even if they injected only once many years ago.

Unlike hepatitis A and hepatitis B there is not a vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. Over the years, the treatments for hepatitis C have become more effective. However, treatment is not for everyone and a specialist should be consulted when determining if someone should get treated.

Information about Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C infection is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). This virus accounts for much of what was known as non-A non-B hepatitis until 1989. Hepatitis C is the most common bloodborne infection in the U.S. Approximately 3.6 million (1. 3%) persons in the U.S. have ever been infected with HCV, of whom 2.7 million are chronically infected. It has been estimated that roughly 75% of persons infected are unaware of their status and that 3 out of 4 persons infected are “Baby boomers” (persons born between 1945 and 1965).

Hepatitis C is a bloodborne pathogen and is transmitted primarily by percutaneous exposure (inoculation via the skin with infected blood such as a needle-stick injury). Injection drug use currently accounts for most new HCV cases in the U.S. and has accounted for a substantial proportion of HCV infections in past decades. Other factors associated with transmission include receiving a transfusion or organ transplant before 1992, receiving long-term hemodialysis, or receiving clotting factor produced before 1987. The CDC recommends screening individuals based on the above mentioned risk factors and, as of 2012, additionally recommends a one-time screening of persons born between 1945 and 1965 (“Baby boomers”). A law went into effect January 1, 2014 in New York that primary care providers must offer a one-time hepatitis C screening to “baby boomers”. (Frequently Asked Questions)

Once you learn that you are infected with hepatitis C, it is important that you receive proper medical care. A healthcare provider can monitor your liver disease. They can also give you advice on how to take care of your liver and information on hepatitis C treatments.

Hepatitis C is curable in many cases. Medications now available for the treatment of hepatitis C are more successful, have fewer side effects and the length of treatment is shorter (12-24 weeks). Some people are even able to be treated without interferon. Interferon is an injectable medication used to treat hepatitis C and causes many of the side effects associated with hepatitis C treatment. More treatment options will also be available in the future.

Decisions about starting treatment for hepatitis C are based on many factors. Together, you and your healthcare provider can decide whether treatment is right for you. Talk to your doctor and other people close to you before making a decision.

Are you at risk?


SOURCES
New York State Department of Health 
  • Home page for Hepatitis C (Revised August 2015) 
  • Page about Hepatitis C for consumers (Revised May 2014)