Hepatitis C virus can be spread by exposure to infectious blood. This includes perinatal transmission, which means a mother can pass the virus to the fetus during childbirth. Additionally, accidental needle sticks contaminated with infected blood are another source of transmission.
Sexual activity with infected partners can lead to transmission of hepatitis C, though this is a rare occurrence. A history of unprotected sexual activity, especially with prostitutes and rough sex leading to micro-abrasions is usually present in patients who have had sexual transmission of the disease.
Injection drug abusers remain the most common cause of acquiring acute hepatitis C. The virus is easily transmitted through needles and syringes contaminated with infected blood.
The incubation period for hepatitis C is a range between 14-180 days, with an average of 45 days (7 weeks). The greatest risk of infectivity occurs 1-2 weeks before the onset of symptoms. 75-85% of patients go on to develop chronic hepatitis C and remain infectious.
The majority of patients with hepatitis C develop chronic infection; however, most are unaware of their infection potentially for months or years until symptoms of the chronic disease are manifested. Liver cirrhosis or scarring of the liver is a complication of the chronic disease. Jaundice is often the first sign.
Barrier protection is important to help decrease transmission of this disease. Educate high risk patients, such as individuals who have multiple partners to use a condom to prevent spread of this virus.
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