Hepatitis is a general term for inflammation of the liver which can be caused by bacterial or viral infections, toxins, drugs, or heavy alcohol use. Hepatitis also refers specifically to the viral infections that cause inflammation of the liver; hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. The most common hepatitis viruses are A, B, and C. Vaccines for hepatitis A and B have been part of routine childhood vaccinations since the mid 1990s.
Hepatitis C outbreaks in health care facilities are monitored by the Center for Disease Control. According to reports of outbreaks to the CDC between 2008 and 2011, the majority of outbreaks were caused by reusing needles on more than one patient or breaches in infection control practices. Two instances of outbreak—one in Colorado and one in Florida—were caused by employee drug diversion.
CDC’s ‘Know More Hepatitis’ campaign instigated the first ‘hepatitis testing day’ on May 19, 2012 to increase hepatitis education and awareness. The ‘Know More Hepatitis’ campaign recommends that some people are at a higher risk of contracting Hepatitis C and should be tested.
At-risk groups recommended for Hepatitis C testing:
- Baby boomers born between 1945 and 1965, before testing of the blood supply became standard
- Anyone who had a blood transfusion before July 1992
- Anyone who has ever injected drugs
- People with HIV
- Anyone on hemodialysis
- People who have been exposed to blood in the workplace
- Anyone who has had a non-professional tattoo or piercing
Hepatitis C, D, and E currently do not have FDA approved vaccinations.
Hepatitis C (HCV) is the most common viral form of hepatitis, and the most common bloodborne infection in the United States.
Hepatitis C can be acute or chronic. Acute cases clear up after several months. Chronic cases lead to serious liver problems including cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure.
Hepatitis C symptoms can take decades to develop, and may only be expressed as signs of advanced liver disease resulting from the viral infection.
Symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, jaundice, joint pain, abdominal pain, grey-colored stools, dark urine, and/or loss of appetite.
Hepatitis C transmission happens when the blood of an infected person enters the body of a person who is not infected. It can be sexually transmitted, although this is considered less likely.
Hepatitis C cannot be transmitted by casual contact or sharing utensils, hugging/kissing, sneezing, coughing, breastfeeding or sharing food.
Hepatitis C requires two rounds of testing:
The initial test, or the ‘hepatitis C antibody test,’ determines whether a person currently has hepatitis C antibodies. If the test is negative or ‘non-reactive’ there is no presence of hepatitis C.
If the test is positive or ‘reactive,’ a second test determines if the virus is still present, or if the antibodies are leftover from a previous acute infection that has since been cleared. A positive on the second test indicates chronic hepatitis C infection.
Antiviral medications coupled with recommended lifestyle changes can help treat hepatitis C, however, treatment depends on individual circumstances.
About 70 to 85 percent of acute cases become chronic, and 60 to 70 percent of this group develops liver disease.
The Center for Disease Control estimates that over 3 million people in the United States are living with chronic hepatitis C, with about 75 percent unaware of their infection.
The History of Vaccines A Project of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia
CDC Know More Hepatitis campaign
Mayo Clinic hepatitis C facts