International travel and health

Hepatitis C

Cause

Hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is a hepacivirus

Transmission

The virus is acquired through person-to-person transmission by parenteral routes. Before screening for HCV became available, infection was transmitted mainly by transfusion of contaminated blood or blood products. Nowadays transmission frequently occurs through use of contaminated needles, syringes and other instruments used for injections and other skin-piercing procedures. Sexual transmission of hepatitis C occurs rarely. There is no insect vector or animal reservoir for HCV.

Nature of the disease

Most HCV infections are asymptomatic. In cases where infection leads to clinical hepatitis, the onset of symptoms is usually gradual, with anorexia, abdominal discomfort, nausea and vomiting, followed by the development of jaundice in some cases (less commonly than in hepatitis B). Most patients will develop a long-lasting chronic infection, which may lead to cirrhosis and/or liver cancer.

Geographical distribution

Worldwide, with regional differences in levels of prevalence.

Risk for travellers

Travellers are at risk if they practise unsafe behaviour involving the use of contaminated needles or syringes for injection, acupuncture, piercing or tattooing. An accident or medical emergency requiring blood transfusion may result in infection if the blood has not been screened for HCV. Travellers engaged in humanitarian relief activities may be exposed to infected blood or other body fluids in health care settings.

Prophylaxis

None.

Precautions

Avoid the use of any potentially contaminated instruments for injection or other skin-piercing activity and adopt safe sexual practices.

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