Hepatitis C is a contagious disease, and is spread by blood contact with an infected individual. The disease process begins with an acute phase, starting 6 weeks or so after exposure. This stage lasts up to about 6 months. This stage consists of fevers, tiredness, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin.)
Most people with acute infection will then move into a second stage, chronic Hepatitis C. This stage has minimal outward symptoms, but causes long term problems like progressive liver damage, and cancer. It is certainly possible to be infected with Hepatitis C and not know it.
Perhaps 30,000 people per year are diagnosed with acute Hepatitis C, and it is estimated that about 3 million have chronic Hepatitis C.
At risk individuals are IV drug abusers, dialysis patients, and older populations, as well as health care workers.
There are some new treatments for chronic Hepatitis C, and acute Hepatitis C victims who receive treatment are at reduced risk of chronic infection. Unfortunately, there is currently no vaccine to prevent Hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C, and other common blood-borne infections are covered in AHA's Bloodborne Pathogen course. Contact us to arrange a course for your office.