Organism, Causative Agent, or Etiologic Agent
HCV is a small, single-stranded RNA virus and is a member of the Flavivirus family. Multiple HCV genotypes and subtypes exist.
Hepatitis C is spread when blood from a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. Today, most people become infected with the Hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. Before 1992, when widespread screening of the blood supply began in the United States, Hepatitis C was also commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants.
People can become infected with the Hepatitis C virus during such activities as:
- Sharing needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject drugs
- Needlestick injuries in health care settings
- Being born to a mother who has Hepatitis C
Less commonly, a person can also get Hepatitis C virus infection through:
- Sharing personal care items that may have come in contact with another person’s blood, such as razors or toothbrushes
- Having sexual contact with a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus
Approximately 70%–80% of people with acute Hepatitis C do not have any symptoms. Some people, however, can have mild to severe symptoms soon after being infected, including
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Joint pain
- Jaundice (yellow color in the skin or eyes)
If symptoms occur, the average time is 6–7 weeks after exposure, but this can range from 2 weeks to 6 months. Even if a person with Hepatitis C has no symptoms, he or she can still spread the virus to others. Many people who are infected with the Hepatitis C virus do not know they are infected because they do not look or feel sick.
Most people with chronic Hepatitis C do not have any symptoms. However, if a person has been infected for many years, his or her liver may be damaged. In many cases, there are no symptoms of the disease until liver problems have developed. In persons without symptoms, Hepatitis C is often detected during routine blood tests to measure liver function and liver enzyme (protein produced by the liver) level.
The most effective means of preventing hepatitis C is to avoid contact with human blood. Do not inject illegal drugs and do not share toothbrushes, razors or other items that might have blood on them.
No vaccines yet exist for HCV.
School Exclusion Policy
Children with acute or chronic hepatitis C do not need to be excluded from school or childcare. Rules for exclusion of sick children from school and childcare are outlined in the Texas Administrative Code, specifically Rule 97.7 for schools and Rule 746.3603 for childcare.
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