Thursday, June 29th, 2000
Hepatitis C is priority for Division of Health

Discovered in 1988, hepatitis C remains a mystery to many people who may be at risk for contracting the virus. Delaware's Division of Public Health has launched a campaign to raise awareness of hepatitis C, including risk factors, screening recommendations and treatment. The hepatitis C. virus (HCV) is the most common chronic blood-borne infection in the United States.

An estimated 3.9 million Americans have been infected with HCV, and approximately 40,000 new cases occur each year. Of these infected, about 70 percent develop chronic liver disease, 15 percent develop cirrhosis, and 5 percent die. "Unfortunately, most people who have been infected with the hepatitis C virus are not aware of it, because the symptoms often do not show up for 20 to 30 years," DPH director Dr. Ulder Tillman explained. "We hope to inform the public of the risks so they will know if they need to get tested. Identifying those with the virus also will help prevent it from spreading."
HCV is spread primarily by direct contact with human blood. It is not spread by sneezing, hugging, coughing, food or water, sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses, or casual contact.

Infection may have occurred if:

You received blood from an infected donor;
You used dialysis equipment that has infected blood on it;
You have frequent contact with infected blood on the job;
You have ever injected street drugs with needles that have infected blood on them;
You ever had sex with a person infected with HCV;
You shared items such as razors or toothbrushes with an infected person (because of the possibility of exchanging blood); or
Your mother had hepatitis C when she gave birth to you.

Of these risk factors, injecting-drug use accounts for 60 percent of HCV transmission in the United States. The role of sexual activity in transmission of HCV is unclear, but is estimated to account for 20 percent of infections.

Other known exposures account for about 10 percent of infections. The balance is unexplained. Screening and diagnosis are accomplished by measuring the presence of antibodies to HCV in blood. These tests can tell whether or not a person has been infected, but they cannot distinguish the stage of the disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, screening of the general population for HCV is unnecessary. Only people who are at the highest risk for exposure should be screened, and others should be tested only after a known, recognized exposure.

Who should be tested?

Persons who were treated for clotting problems with a blood product made before 1987.
Persons who received blood from a donor who later tested positive for hepatitis C.
Persons who received a blood transfusion or solid organ transplant before July 1992, when better testing of blood donors became available.
Long-term hemodialysis patients.
Persons who ever injected illegal drugs, even if it was only once.
Persons who have signs or symptoms of liver disease (e.g. abnormal liver enzyme tests).
Healthcare or emergency rescue workers who have direct contact with infected blood on the job.
Children born to HCV-positive women.

Although there is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C, experimental antiviral drugs have been approved for treatment and can be successful in eliminating the virus and improving liver disease in some patients. People who test positive for HCV should consult their doctor for appropriate treatment. Persons with Hepatitis C should not drink alcohol, as they has been shown to increase the rate at which severe liver disease develops.
For more information call the Delaware Helpline at (800) 464-HELP (4357) and ask for the Division of Public Health's Infectious Disease Program.

How to submit copy
Mail news to the Star, PO Box 1000, Seaford, DE 19973, fax to 629-9243, e-mail or