Hepatitis C cell

Hepatitis C: What is it and how to Protect your Employees

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Continuing our coverage of Hepatitis Awareness Month, today we conclude with Hepatitis C, the risk factors, and how to protect your employees from the disease.

What is Hepatitis C?

Like Hepatitis A and B,  Hepatitis C is an infectious virus that attacks the liver.  It is spread from exposures from blood to blood contact such as transfusions, intravenous drug use, and poorly sterilized medical equipment. 

What are the risk factors for obtaining Hepatitis C?

In the past blood transfusions carried a much higher risk factor for transmitting the disease. However, new screening tests have been developed & implemented that have significantly cut down on the likelihood of obtaining the disease in this way.

Intravenous drug use is the leading risk factor. In the United States, there are currently 1.5 million people who are infected with Hepatitis C because of intravenous drug use. 

RISK FACTORS OF HEPATITIS C BY SOURCE BASED ON CDC DATA

Contracting Hepatitis C through a needlestick injury is a low risk factor unless the puncture is deep or the needle is hollow. 

Body piercing and tattooing are also high risk factors. The main problem associated with Hepatitis C exposures in tattoo parlors is caused by poor sterilization techniques of equipment or even contamination of dyes.

Hepatitis C exposures could be greatly limited with stricter standards in public and private medical and dental facilities.

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis C?

Symptoms are generally mild including loss of appetite, fatigue, nausea, muscle & joint pain, and weight loss. In most cases Jaundice is not present.

The incubation period of the virus is in the neighborhood of 6-8 weeks.

Of those who contract the virus, 50-80% develop a chronic infection. Chronic Hepatitis C infections could be rather scary because they increase the likelihood of developing cirrhosis of the liver which could lead to liver cancer. Worldwide, approximately 130-170 million people are living with chronic Hepatitis C. 350,000 die annually from Hepatitis C related diseases. 

How do you test your employees for Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is diagnosed with blood tests that detect the presence of antibodies. It takes approximately 6-8 weeks following exposure before antibodies are present in the blood. Elevation of liver enzyme tests (elevated after seven weeks) are also an indicator of the Hepatitis C.

How do you treat Hepatitis C?

Your personal physician is best equipped to provide treatment for Hepatitis C. As opposed to Hepatitis B, there is no vaccination. The best method for preventing the disease is prevention. Avoid high risk factors when possible. For people with tattoos, be sure to visit a well vetted tattoo parlor that follows strict occupational protocols for sterilization of equipment. Good common sense is the best practice.