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
¥ 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,
Who should be tested?
¥ Persons who were treated for clotting problems with a blood product made before
¥ Persons who received blood from a donor who later tested positive for hepatitis
¥ 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
¥ 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
For more information call the Delaware Helpline at (800) 464-HELP (4357) and ask
for the Division of Public Health's Infectious Disease Program.
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Mail news to the Star, PO Box 1000, Seaford, DE 19973, fax to 629-9243,
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