Hepatitis C: Transmission, Symptoms and Diagnosis

Hepatitis C is found worldwide with some countries having chronic infection rates as high as 5% and above.. The main mode of transmission in these countries is attributed to unsafe injections using contaminated equipment.

Transmission

The hepatitis C virus is most commonly transmitted through exposure to infectious blood. This can occur through:

  • receipt of contaminated blood transfusions, blood products and organ transplants;
  • injections given with contaminated syringes and needle-stick injuries in health-care settings;
  • injection drug use;
  • being born to a hepatitis C-infected mother.

Hepatitis C may be transmitted through sex with an infected person or sharing personal items contaminated with infectious blood, but these are less common.

Hepatitis C is not spread through breast milk, food or water or by casual contact such as hugging, kissing and sharing food or drinks with an infected person.

Symptoms

The incubation period for hepatitis C is 2 weeks to 6 months. Following initial infection, approximately 80% of people do not exhibit any symptoms. Those who are acutely symptomatic may exhibit fever, fatigue, decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, grey-coloured faeces, joint pain and jaundice (yellowing of skin and the whites of the eyes).

About 75–85 % of newly infected persons develop chronic infection and 60–70% of chronically infected people develop chronic liver disease; 5–20% develop cirrhosis and 1–5% die from cirrhosis or liver cancer. In 25% of liver cancer patients, the underlying cause is hepatitis C.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of acute infection is often missed because a majority of infected people have no symptoms. Common methods of antibody detection cannot differentiate between acute and chronic infection. The presence of antibodies against the hepatitis C virus indicates that a person is or has been infected. The hepatitis C virus recombinant immunoblot assay (RIBA) and hepatitis C virus ribonucleic acid (RNA) testing are used to confirm the diagnosis.

Diagnosis of chronic infection is made when hepatitis C virus RNA is identified by nucleic acid testing in a person with antibodies against hepatitis C virus. Specialized tests are often used to evaluate patients for liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer.

 

Source: WHO

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