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Who Is at Risk for Hepatitis C?

The nearly 4 million Americans chronically infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) can transmit the infection to others through blood and other bodily fluids. The route of transmission can usually be determined in over 90% of new cases.

People at High Risk for Hepatitis C Include:

1. Recipients of blood transfusions prior to 1990. Before 1990, most new cases of hepatitis C in the U.S. developed after blood transfusions. In 1990, a screening test for HCV was developed, significantly reducing the chances of acquiring the virus through transfusions.

2. IV drug users. Risk of infection due to IV drug use still remains high. Fifty percent to 80% of new IV drug users become infected within 6 to 12 months of starting to use IV drugs.

3. Intranasal cocaine users. People who share instruments for "snorting" cocaine are at higher risk of acquiring hepatitis C.

4. Health care workers. Doctors, nurses, and laboratory personnel have a higher prevalence of hepatitis C than the general population. Exposure to blood products from poor safety precautions or from accidental needle sticks seems to increase their risk of acquiring the disease. The exact risk of acquiring hepatitis C from an infected needle is not known.

5. Dialysis patients. Hepatitis C can be transmitted through dialysis equipment that is not properly disposed of or disinfected.

6. Spouses and close household contacts of hepatitis C infected patients. The risk of sexual transmission from infected partner to spouse is controversial. Overall, the risk appears very low. A recent study showed a transmission rate of 1% per year in frequent sexual partners.

7. People engaged in high-risk sexual activity, such as having multiple sexual partners or sex with people infected with sexually transmitted diseases, particularly HIV. The risk is, however, quite low.

8. Recipients of body piercing or tattoos or even possibly manicures/pedicures. The equipment and supplies used for these can be infected with HCV, but the risk of acquiring hepatitis C through this means in the U.S. is unconfirmed. Make sure all instruments are sterile or disposable as well as the ink used in tattoos.

9. Children born to women with hepatitis C. Although transmission from mother to newborn child has occurred, the degree of risk is controversial. Estimates range from 0% to 18%. Co-infection with HIV increases the overall risk.

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