U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Hepatitis C prevention

Hepatitis C prevention – Pamphlet

Hepatitis C, also known as bloodborne non-A, non-B hepatitis, is a serious public health problem in the United States, where 150,000 to 170,000 persons get hepatitis C each year; many become severely ill and require hospitalization, and some die of liver failure.

Like other bloodborne diseases, hepatitis C can be prevented with proper precautions. In addition, a blood test is available for hepatitis C screening. Read this pamphlet to learn what puts you at risk for hepatitis C, how you can protect yourself from this disease, how you can be tested, and what to do if you have hepatitis C.

What is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is found in the blood of persons who have this disease. The infection is spread by behaviors involving contact with the blood of an infected person and by blood transfusions.

How great is the risk for hepatitis C?

About 40% of all persons who get hepatitis C do not know how they were infected with HCV. If you do not engage in any of the behaviors listed below, your risk for hepatitis C is probably low. However, if you are involved in any of these behaviors, your risk for hepatitis C could be very high.

You are at risk for hepatitis C if you

* have ever injected drugs

* have a job that exposes you to human blood

* are a hemodialysis patient

* have ever received a blood transfusion You may be at risk if you

* have multiple sex partners

* live with a person who has hepatitis C What are the symptoms of hepatitis C?

If you have hepatitis C, you may have

* yellowing of the skin and eyes

* loss of appetite

* nausea and vomiting

* fever

* extreme fatigue

* stomach pain

Some persons who are infected with HCV have no symptoms and can infect others without knowing it.

How serious is hepatitis C?

Each year in the United States, a small number of people die of liver failure shortly after getting hepatitis C. Persons who get hepatitis C may never fully recover and may carry the virus for the rest of their lives. More than half of these persons have some liver damage and may eventually develop cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver and liver failure.

How is HCV spread?

HCV is spread primarily by exposure to human blood. A person may get hepatitis C by sharing needles to inject drugs or through exposure to human blood in the workplace. Although the risk of getting hepatitis C from a blood transfusion still exists, this risk is very low because donated blood has been screened for HCV since May 1990.

Hepatitis C has been transmitted between sex partners and among household members; however, the degree of this risk is unknown.

There is no evidence that HCV is spread by sneezing, coughing, hugging, or other casual contact.

HCV cannot be spread by food or water.

A person who has had other types of viral hepatitis, such as hepatitis A or hepatitis B, can still get hepatitis C.

How can you find out if you have hepatitis C?

A blood test is available for hepatitis C screening. The test shows if a person has been infected with HCV; however, it does not distinguish between recent and old infection. In addition, the test does not distinguish between persons who are infectious and those who have completely recovered and cannot pass the infection on to anyone else.

What if your test for hepatitis C is positive?

If you have a positive test result and have risk factors for hepatitis C or have signs of liver disease, you probably have been infected with HCV. However, if you have no signs of liver disease and do not engage in high risk behaviors, your hepatitis C positive test result may be a “false positive.” Contact your doctor to determine whether your hepatitis C test result is accurate and whether additional tests are needed.

What if you have hepatitis C?

If you have hepatitis C,

* Do not donate blood, plasma, body organs, other tissue, or sperm

* Do not share toothbrushes, razors, or other items that could contaminated with blood

* Cover open sores or other breaks in your skin

HCV may be spread by sexual contact with an infected person. To reduce the chances of spreading HCV by sexual contact, follow these “safer-sex” guidelines:

* Use latex condoms to prevent the exchange of body fluids

* Have only one sex partner

* If you have multiple sex partners – Reduce the number of your sex partners to prevent others from getting infected

– Inform your sex partners about your illness

For more information on viral hepatitis call CDC Hepatitis Hotline (404) 332-4555 or write

Hepatitis Branch, Mailstop G37 Division of Viral and Rickettsial Diseases National Center for Infectious Diseases Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Atlanta, Georgia 30333

COPYRIGHT 1993 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group