Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infects the liver and is transmitted primarily by direct exposure to the blood of an infected person. Before HCV screening of blood and blood-products was introduced in 1992, transfusions accounted for a large proportion of infections. Today, most infections are associated with injection drug use (IDU). HCV can also be spread during childbirth and through sexual exposure, but both routes of transmission are uncommon.
Approximately 5% of HCV positive women transmit the virus to their infant. HCV does not spread readily through sexual activity and is more likely to occur by this route in men who have sex with men. Approximately 75-95% of newly infected persons are asymptomatic. As a result, most people with chronic infection are unaware that they have HCV.
Although treatment for chronic hepatitis C infections is available, no post-exposure prophylaxis regimen is available to prevent infection. There are an estimated 3.2 million chronically infected persons in the United States.
The prevalence of chronic hepatitis C infection is the highest among persons born during 1945-1965. Seventy-five to 85% of people who get infected with hepatitis C virus will become chronic carriers (chronic infection). Sixty to 70% of people with chronic infection will develop chronic liver disease. About 20% of persons with chronic hepatitis C will develop serious liver problems including cirrhosis and liver cancer 20 to 30 years after becoming infected.
Resources for the general public
Hepatitis C Test & Cure is committed to making the most of recent advances in medicine that can improve the lives of thousands suffering from chronic hepatitis infection. There is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C but there is, however, a cure. If you are either a Baby Boomer OR you currently or have ever used injection drugs, a routine screening for hepatitis C is strongly advised. Learn more.
Resources for health care professionals
- Hepatitis C, acute and chronic are reportable conditions in King County: See disease reporting requirements
- Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) Screening: Key Info for Primary Care Providers, King County
- Hepatitis C information for health professionals, CDC
- Hepatitis C chapter from Health Information for International Travel, CDC
Purpose of surveillance:
- To identify risk factors for infection
- To identify and eliminate sources of transmission
- To provide education to cases in order to minimize risk of transmission and to reduce risk factors for development of chronic liver disease
- To monitor the prevalence of disease and associated disease burden in the community
- To identify epidemiological features of hepatitis C to guide prevention activities and HCV-related services
- Twenty-one cases of acute HCV infection were reported in 2015. Fourteen (67%) of the cases were male, and median age was 38 years (range 18 – 53 years). Injection drug use was the suspected route of exposure for 15 (71%) cases. Seven cases were hospitalized; none died.
- In 2015, 1688 chronic HCV cases (current or past HCV infection) were reported. Of the chronic cases, 1663 were categorized as confirmed and 25 as probable.
- Each year in Washington state fewer than 30 acute infections and between 5,000 and 6,000 cases of chronic HCV are reported.