Hepatitis C virus is the most common chronic blood borne infection in the United States with an estimated 4.1 million American infected. World-wide there is an estimated 170 million persons chronically infected. The number of new infections per year has declined from 240,000 in the 1980s to 26,000 in 2004.
Potential risk factors include contact with infected blood, instruments or needles - such as IV drug users, health care workers, or public safety workers. Additional potential risk factors include intranasal cocaine use, tattooing and body piercing. Before 1992 the hepatitis C virus was also transmitted through blood transfusions. All blood is now tested for the presence of the virus. The risk post-transfusion has been estimated to be reduced to 0.001% per unit transfused.
Because infection with the virus can be asymptomatic or have vague symptoms, as many as 60% of individuals infected are unaware that they carry the virus. Many are found as a result of routine blood tests. Chronic hepatitis C is a slowly progressive disease that may gradually advance over 10-40 years. When it is acquired in later life there is some evidence that it may progress faster. In those with cirrhosis due to hepatitis C there is an associated increase in the chance of developing hepatocellular carcinoma. Drinking alcohol can make the liver disease worse.
There is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. The best prevention is not to use IV drugs, not to share needles, razors, or toothbrushes. Think about the risks if you are thinking about getting a tattoo or body piercing; and get vaccinated against hepatitis B.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is an association between sexual exposure to someone with a history of hepatitis, or exposure to multiple sex partners and contraction of hepatitis C. Women with hepatitis C do not need to avoid pregnancy or breast-feeding according to the CDC. Expectant and new parents should be advised that approximately 5 out of every 100 infants born to HCV infected females might be infected. HCV-positive mothers should consider abstaining from breast-feeding if their nipples are cracked or bleeding.
Currently there are FDA-approved treatments for hepatitis C. Hepatitis C positive patients should be evaluated by their physicians for liver disease.
1. The American Liver Foundation Fact Sheet on Hepatitis C http://www.liverfoundation.org/
2. Center for Disease Control Fact sheet on Hepatitis C. http://www.cdc.gov/
Find out more about gastrointestinal disorders with The GI System in Detail: http://www.ed4nurses.com/gi-in-detail.htm
By: Patti Radovich, MSN, RN, FCCM
Clinical Nurse Specialist Consultant to Ed4Nurses, Inc.
571 Ledge Road
Macedonia, OH 44056