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Hepatitis C Transmission

QUESTION: Hepatitis C Transmission – What are the modes of transmission for the Hepatitis C virus?


The Center for Disease Control has concluded that approximately 21% of all cases of acute Hepatitis are caused by the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). The CDC calculates that over 3.9 million Americans carry the Hepatitis C infection. With such a high number of reported infections, it’s important to know the modes of transmission for the Hepatitis C virus.

The most common risk categories related to Hepatitis C transmission are, ranging from low to high:
  • hemodialysis for patients suffering from kidney failure
  • employment by medical or healthcare workers with occupational exposure to blood products
  • blood transfusions
  • sexual or household contact and injection drug use.
The highest rates of infection are found among young adults ranging from age 20 years to 40 years with a higher incidence found among males. The rate of incidence of the HCV virus is proportionately higher among those with multiple sex partners or household contact with one already infected with the disease.

Many studies have been made concerning the transmission of the virus from mother to infant (perinatal transmission.) These studies are controversial and largely inconclusive. Similarly, studies linking high incidence of Hepatitis C infection to low socioeconomic status give rise to argument and speculation. Because higher rates of the disease are found in economically disadvantaged areas, it is speculated that the virus is being transmitted through modes more commonly found within that population, such as injected drug use, intranasal cocaine abuse, male ear-piercing and tattooing. The observation of the higher prevalence in this group does not provide any real medical enlightenment as to actual causes.

The rates of infection vary very slightly from country to country with Egypt being a notable exception as it is 10% higher than other similarly populated countries.

The modes of transmission of the HCV virus are under constant study. Patients infected with the HIV virus have also been found to have a high rate of incidence of the HCV virus. Researchers assume that the deficiency in the immune system sets up this predisposition to HCV infection, with replication of the HCV virus greatly facilitated. In turn, the HCV virus is more readily transmitted to sexual partners and household contacts. In some cases of those carrying the Hepatitis C infection there is no known behavior linked to the high risk categories such as sexual contact or injection drug usage to explain the presence of the disease. There is still much to be learned about this highly prevalent blood-borne infection.

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