Hepatitis C

Angie SzumlinskiNews

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes liver inflammation and can lead to serious liver damage. Hepatitis C (HCV) spreads through contact with blood that has the virus in it. What makes it even more dangerous is that many people with this disease don’t know they have it because symptoms can take decades to appear. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all adults ages 18 to 79 years be screened for hepatitis C.

What are the symptoms of this disease? Well, this is where it gets tricky. Hepatitis C starts with an acute phase but isn’t always diagnosed because it rarely causes symptoms. When there are symptoms, they may include jaundice, fatigue, nausea, fever, and muscle aches. Hepatitis C is usually spread through blood-to-blood contact. This can be through sharing needles, contact with someone’s blood, sex with an infected person, getting a tattoo or body piercing with unsterile instruments. It CANNOT be spread by sharing eating utensils or through food or water, hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing, or sneezing.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C as there is with Hepatitis A and B. Prevention is the key in the healthcare setting. Standard Precautions, fundamental infection-control principles including safe injection practices and appropriate aseptic technique are keys to preventing exposure. Testing for hepatitis C is recommended after a potential exposure as treatments can cure most people with hepatitis C in 8-12 weeks. Think about it, exposure is a real thing. It might be a topic for discussion at your next QAPI committee meeting. Talk to your infection preventionist, provide some additional education for your staff, provide appropriate medical devices to help prevent needle sticks, etc. Stay well and stay tuned!