Hepatitis C (HCV)
Hepatitis C is caused by a virus that affects the liver potentially causing liver disease, liver cancer, and death. Although the number of new infections per year has declined from 240,000 in the 1980's to 30,000 in 2003, it remains the most common chronic bloodborne infection in the United States with approximately 3.9 million infected individuals, 2.9 million of those chronically infected. Chronic infection with Hepatitis C is the single most common reason for liver transplants.
As with hepatitis B, it is transmitted thru blood-to-blood contact and has been found to survive for up to 7 days on environmental surfaces.
When symptoms appear, they are similar to those associated with HBV. The incubation period before symptoms appear can be 2 weeks to 6 months. However, initial infection may be without symptoms (more than 90% of cases) or with mild symptoms. A high percentage (between 50% and 80%) will develop a chronic infection, even decades later, with about half of these cases eventually developing cirrhosis or cancer of the liver. The risk of chronic infection with Hepatitis C is much greater than with Hepatitis B. Diagnosis is made by specific blood tests.
There is currently no vaccine for the prevention of HCV. For more information visit: CDC