Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infects the liver and is transmitted primarily by direct exposure to the blood of an infected person. Before HCV screening of blood and blood-products was introduced in 1992, transfusions accounted for a large proportion of infections. Today, most infections are associated with injection drug use (IDU). HCV can also be spread during childbirth and through sexual exposure, but both routes of transmission are uncommon.
Approximately 5% of HCV positive women transmit the virus to their infant. HCV does not spread readily through sexual activity and is more likely to occur by this route in men who have sex with men. Approximately 75-95% of newly infected persons are asymptomatic. As a result, most people with chronic infection are unaware that they have HCV.
Although treatment for chronic hepatitis C infections is available, no post-exposure prophylaxis regimen is available to prevent infection. There are an estimated 3.2 million chronically infected persons in the United States.
The prevalence of chronic hepatitis C infection is the highest among persons born during 1945-1965. Seventy-five to 85% of people who get infected with hepatitis C virus will become chronic carriers (chronic infection). Sixty to 70% of people with chronic infection will develop chronic liver disease. About 20% of persons with chronic hepatitis C will develop serious liver problems including cirrhosis and liver cancer 20 to 30 years after becoming infected.
Resources for the general public
Hepatitis C Test & Cure is committed to making the most of recent advances in medicine that can improve the lives of thousands suffering from chronic hepatitis infection. There is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C but there is, however, a cure. If you are either a Baby Boomer OR you currently or have ever used injection drugs, a routine screening for hepatitis C is strongly advised. Learn more.
Resources for health care professionals
- Hepatitis C, acute and chronic are reportable conditions in King County: See disease reporting requirements
- Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) Screening: Key Info for Primary Care Providers, King County
- Hepatitis C information for health professionals, CDC
- Hepatitis C chapter from Health Information for International Travel, CDC