Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) is caused by a virus that damages the liver. Because HCV infection usually produces no symptoms or very mild symptoms during the early stages, many people don’t know they have it until their livers are significantly damaged. Left untreated, people with chronic HCV infection are at risk for developing cirrhosis and cancer of the liver.
HCV is found in the blood of people who are infected and is spread primarily through blood-to-blood contact. In rare cases people become infected through sexual contact with someone who has HCV. In the U.S., most reported HCV infections are among intravenous drug users and people born between 1945 and 1965 (baby boomers).
Nationally, there are an estimated 3.5 million people living with HCV. Despite new therapies that can cure more than 90% of chronic HCV, only 50% of those living with it are aware of their infection and most have not received recommended care and treatment.
HCV is a reportable disease and therefore health care providers are required to report positive lab test results to the Vermont Department of Health. Electronic Lab Reports (ELRs) are the most common way that this information is transmitted, but for providers who use labs that do not submit ELRs this form is available to be faxed or mailed to the department. When reports are received by the health department they are investigated and cased appropriately. Based on the information reported by the provider, a representative of the Health Department may contact the lab, provider practice, and/or patient to gather more information. Providers can help us in our efforts by informing patients with reactive HCV tests that the Health Department may contact them in the future.
Hepatitis C is spread by exposure to blood of an infected person. People with the virus can spread it even if they have no symptoms. The virus is NOT spread through casual contact or in typical school, office, or food service settings.
|Who||Risk of Infection||Is Testing Recommended|
|Injecting drug users||High||Yes|
|Recipients of clotting factors made before 1987||High||Yes|
|Long-term Hemodialysis patients||Intermediate||Yes|
|Recipients of blood and/or solid organs before 1992||Intermediate||Yes|
|People with undiagnosed liver problems||Intermediate||Yes|
|Infants born to infected mothers||Intermediate||
After 2-6 mos. old (RNA testing only)
After 18 mos. old (antibody testing)
|Healthcare/public safety workers||Low||Only after known exposure|
|People having sex with multiple partners||Low||No*|
|People having sex with an infected steady partner||Low||No*|
People born from 1945-1965, also known as baby boomers, are five times more likely to have HCV than other adults. General circumstances and risk behaviors outlined in the table above attribute to higher rates of HCV for this population. Those born during this period should get tested for HCV at least once during their lifetime.
Anyone who wants to get tested should ask their doctor. HCV can be tested through a blood test done by your health care provider.
*HCV can be spread infrequently through sex with an HCV-infected person. Although a risk, it is an inefficient means of transmission.
Most people (about 70% to 80%) with an acute HCV infection do not experience any symptoms or show signs of the infection. If Hepatitis C symptoms do occur, they usually appear within two weeks to six months after being exposed to the virus. Since most people with acute Hepatitis C go on to develop chronic Hepatitis C – meaning the virus has remained in your body for 6 months or longer – and still have no symptoms, it’s common to have the infection for 15 years or longer before being diagnosed.
Of every 100 people infected with HCV, approximately
- 75 to 85 will go on to develop chronic infection
- 60 to 70 will go on to develop chronic liver disease
- 5 to 20 will go on to develop cirrhosis over a period of 20 to 30 years
- 1 to 5 will die from the consequences of chronic infection (liver cancer or cirrhosis)
In recent years HCV treatment has significantly improved. HCV medications can now cure 90% or more of all cases. Patients with HCV should be referred to a hepatologist, gastroenterologist, infectious disease doctor, or other health care provider who concentrates on liver disease.