What are the risk factors for hepatitis C?

HCV is most often spread via the blood of an infected individual. Most cases of HCV are due to intravenous drug use (sharing needles with a person infected with the virus), receiving blood clotting factors produced before 1987, or receiving a blood transfusion or organ donation before 1992, the year blood donations and transplanted organs began to be screened for HCV.

Others at lower risk for the virus include patients on long-term kidney hemodialysis, healthcare workers exposed to accidental needle sticks, and babies born to HCV-infected mothers (the risk for transmission is about 4%). Other, lesser risk factors include having sex with, or sharing razors or toothbrushes with an infected individual, and getting a tattoo from infected equipment. Having sex with a partner with a sexually transmitted disease or multiple partners increases the risk of contracting HCV if one partner is infected with the virus. Sporadic transmission – cases in which the source of the infection is not known, accounts for about 10% of acute HCV and 30% of chronic cases of this infection.

In contrast to HCV cases in the US, HCV in the developing world is usually spread via medical procedures, including non-sterile vaccinations and blood transfusions performed with reused medical equipment.

There are six known variations, or genotypes of HCV and about 50 subtypes of HCV. Physicians test patients for each genotype to determine what type of antiviral drug therapy is likely to be most effective. Most patients in the US are genotype 1a or 1b, and genotype 2 and 3 account for 10-20% of patients.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.