The virus is transmitted primarily by blood and blood products. The majority of infected individuals have either received blood transfusions prior to 1990 (when screening of the blood supply for HCV was implemented) or have used intravenous drugs. Transmission from mother to fetus or infant is also relatively low but possible (less than 10%). Many individuals infected with HCV have no obvious risk factors. Most of these persons have probably been inadvertently exposed to contaminated blood or blood products.
Almost any direct or indirect exposure to infected blood can transmit the virus. This includes I.V. drug use and poorly sterilized medical instruments, blood spills, un bandaged cuts or injuries, and tattooing or body piercing, as well as less obvious sources of blood, such as shared razors or toothbrushes, or body secretions (such as mucous) that may contain small amounts of blood. In about 10% of all cases, no risk factors have been identified.
Heterosexual and homosexual activity, particularly with multiple partners and in the absence of protective measures, can transmit the virus. Close contact between household members has also been implicated.
The symptoms of Hepatitis C are often very mild, at least in the early stages of infection and can be virtually undetectable. The most common symptom, commencing sometimes years after initial infection, is fatigue. Other symptoms include mild fever, muscle and joint aches, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, vague abdominal pain, and sometimes diarrhea. Many cases go undiagnosed because the symptoms are suggestive of a flu-like illness which just comes and goes.
Other sources of information for these topics.
Hepatitis C: Index | CDC Viral Hepatitis
All you ever wanted to know about Hepatitis C from an official government source including Hepatitis C Coordinators by state, a great fact sheet, ...
Hepatitis C: An Epidemic for Anyone
This public health awareness site, hosted by Dr. C. Everett Koop, provides extensive information about hepatitis C and the hepatitis c epidemic. Hepatitis C ...
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