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Hepatitis C Fact Sheet

Cause

  • Hepatitis C virus (HCV)
  • Identified in 1989
  • Responsible for 90% of non-A, non-B hepatitis cases following blood transfusion prior to 1989
  • HCV is a viral infection carried in the blood
  • There are six genotypes and more than 100 subtypes of HCV identified.

Clinical Characteristics

Incubation Period Average 2-26 weeks
Acute Illness Mild acute illness is seen in less than 25 % of infected people
Chronic Infection 70-80% of people progress to chronic infection.
Death from Chronic Liver Disease, Disease from liver damage, and Cancer of the Liver 1-5% of infected people per year.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) can occur in 20-30% of those infected. Other general symptoms such as uneasiness, loss of appetite, pain in the stomach area, dark urine and fatigue can be seen in 10-20% of those infected.
  • About 70-80% of people show no signs or symptoms of infection.
  • About 20-30% or individuals who are infected with acute Hep C will recover without treatment.

Modes of Transmission

  • Exposure to blood or blood products infected with HCV
  • An infected mother can pass the infection to her newborn child (vertical transmission).
  • Sexual transmission is a rare event, but can happen in the presence of blood.
  • Household transmission through sharing of razors, toothbrushes, scissors and nail clippers is possible.

Persons at Risk

Persons at Risk
Persons Level of Risk
Recipients of blood, tissues, or organs prior to 1990 High
Recipients of blood clotting factors (e.g. Factor VIII) prior to 1992 High
Injection Drug Users High
People who 'snort' drugs High
Hemodialysis patients Medium
People getting tattoos and body piercings with tools that are not sterile (e.g. in prison) Medium
People who have sex with a Hep C carrier Medium
Babies born to Hep C infected mothers Low
Health Care Workers Low

Prevention

  • If your job regularly exposes you to blood or blood products from others, try to protect yourself with gloves to reduce the risk of the spread of viruses.
  • If you use injection drugs, ensure you use clean, sterile needles. Sharing needles, syringes or other drug-use equipment with others can put you at risk of infection.

Treatment

  • Treatment of people with new Hep C infections with long acting interferon and ribavirin can get rid of the virus in up to 60% of people within 24 to 72 weeks.

Reference: Bloodborne Pathogens Section, Blood Safety Surveillance and Health Care Acquired Infections Division, Health Canada, 2003