Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) (continued…)

If symptoms do occur, the average incubation period is 45 days after exposure, but this can range from 14 to 180 days.

Many people infected with the hepatitis C virus do not develop symptoms.

Hepatitis C virus-infected individuals are infectious to other people, whether they show symptoms or not. Interestingly, hepatitis C virus is strictly a human disease. It is not known to cause disease in any animals.

Blood testing for hepatitis C virus was not available until 1992. As a result, blood donation agencies did not screen for Hepatitis C virus. Many hepatitis C virus infections occurred as a result of receiving blood products from infected individuals. Today, testing for hepatitis C is common place and should occur after any exposure to potential bloodborne pathogens has occurred.

There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.

Treatment

According to the CDC, approximately 15% to 25% of people infected with acute hepatitis C will naturally be able to clear the infection from their body without treatment.

There are several medications available to treat chronic Hepatitis C, including newer, more effective drugs with fewer side effects.

Around the World

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1.75 million people are infected with the hepatitis C virus each year. Approximately 71 million people are chronically infected and at risk of developing liver cirrhosis and/or liver cancer. About 400,000 people worldwide die from hepatitis C-related liver diseases each year.

Decontamination

Any blood spills – including dried blood, which can still be infectious – should be cleaned using a dilution of one-part household bleach to 10 parts water. Gloves should be worn when cleaning up blood spills.

Scenario

Manuel is a nurse working nights in the local hospital. During a shift in the emergency department he is stuck with a used needle that punctures his skin and draws blood.

Is Manuel at risk for contracting hepatitis C?

Yes. After a needlestick or sharps exposure to Hepatitis C-positive blood, the risk of infection is approximately 1.8%. Manuel should immediately report the potential exposure and follow his employer’s exposure control plan to ensure he receives proper medical treatment and testing.