- Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a small RNA virus that causes liver damage. Like hepatitis B carriers, some hepatitis C carriers develop chronic hepatitis, liver scarring or liver cancer.
- The incubation period is 6-9 weeks (ranges from 2 weeks to 6 months).
- A majority of people infected with HCV do not have symptoms or signs. If symptoms and signs occur, they are indistinguishable from those of hepatitis A or hepatitis B virus infections. About 80% of acute infections do not clear the virus and chronic infections ensue.
- To test for hepatitis C infection, HCV Ab and HCV RNA are used.
- The risk of liver failure and liver-related death from HCV increases for those who are co-infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
- Worldwide, HCV prevalence is directly related to the prevalence of persons who routinely share injection equipment and to the prevalence of contaminated parenteral practices in health care settings.
- WHO estimates that 2-3% of world population is chronically infected with HCV.
- It has been estimated that less than 0.5% of the general population in Hong Kong carry hepatitis C virus, but the infection rate is higher among injecting drug users.
Transmission of Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is spread in a similar way as hepatitis B, mainly through blood contact by:
- sharing needles or 'works' when shooting drugs,
- needlesticks injuries or sharps exposures on the job,
- vertical transmission from an infected mother to her baby during labour.
Less commonly, a person can get Hepatitis C infection via sexual contact. The risk increases among men who have sex with men, for those who have sexually transmitted infection, engage in rough sex, or are infected with HIV.
There is no vaccine available against hepatitis C. The following preventive measures should be taken to prevent hepatitis C:
- Do not shoot drugs. If you shoot drugs, stop and get into a treatment programme. If you cannot stop, never share needles, syringes, water, or 'works'.
- Do not share personal care items (e.g. razors, toothbrushes) that are potentially contaminated with blood.
- HCV infected persons should not donate blood, organs, or tissue.
- Health care worker should always follow routine barrier precautions and should handle needles and sharps safely.
- Use latex condoms correctly and every time when you have sex.
- HCV positive persons should be evaluated by their doctor for liver disease.
- Drugs, such as Interferon, Pegylated Interferon and Ribavirin, can be used to treat the infection. Treatment should take into consideration of severity of disease, contraindications, and likelihood of successful response.