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Hepatitis C (cont.)

Is Hepatitis C Contagious?

Hepatitis C is contagious. Transmission occurs mainly by contact with contaminated blood.

  • Sharing of contaminated needles among IV drug users is the most common mode of transmission. Using a needle to inject recreational drugs, even once several years ago, is a risk factor for hepatitis C. Approximately one-third of young persons who use illicit, injectable drugs have hepatitis C. Older users have a higher risk of disease, especially if they injected in the 1970s and 1980s.
  • In 1992, a test became available for checking blood for HCV. Blood and blood products are now tested to ensure that they are not contaminated. As a result, cases of hepatitis C related to transfusion, hemodialysis, or transplantation have dropped to almost zero. Transfusion of blood or blood products before 1992 is a risk factor for hepatitis C.
  • Less common causes of HCV transmission include the following:
    • From mother to infant at the time of childbirth
    • Through sexual intercourse with an infected person: Having multiple sex partners is a risk factor.
    • Needle sticks with HCV-contaminated blood: This is mostly seen in health care workers. The risk of developing HCV infection after a needle stick is low. Very rarely, a blood splash to the eye of a worker has transmitted hepatitis C.
    • Procedures done with equipment, such as an endoscope, that has not been properly cleaned between patients. Some cases have also been traced to the reuse of syringes that were contaminated with small amounts of blood from an infected patient.
  • You cannot get hepatitis C by living with, being near, or touching someone with the disease. You can get the disease by sharing items contaminated with blood such as a razor, toothbrush, or nail clippers.
  • The source of transmission is unknown in a significant percent of people with chronic hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C Causes

  • HCV is not related to the other viruses that cause hepatitis.
  • HCV is a small virus about 60 nanometers in size. It can only be seen using high power electron microscopes.
  • The virus contains nucleic acid in the form of RNA. Variations in the nucleic acid give rise to different 'genotypes' of HCV.
  • HCV reproduces ('replicates') primarily in liver cells

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/5/2014
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