The Viral Hepatitis Program (VHP) is responsible for prevention efforts and enhanced surveillance for adult hepatitis B, adult hepatitis C and perinatal hepatitis C. VHP works collaboratively with the Reportable Disease Section and the Immunization Branch at KDPH on other hepatidities and hepatitis activities. The program emphasizes the role of harm reduction and drug user health and strives to center the voices of those with lived experience.
Specifically, VHP aims to achieve the following:
- Develop, implement and maintain a plan to rapidly detect and respond to outbreaks of acute hepatitis B and acute hepatitis C
- Systematically collect, analyze, interpret and disseminate data to characterize trends and implement public health interventions for acute hepatitis B and acute and chronic hepatitis C
- Support viral hepatitis elimination planning and surveillance and help maximize access to testing, treatment and prevention
- Improve access to services for PWID in areas disproportionately affected by drug use
Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Hepatitis C is spread through contact with blood from an infected person. Today, most people become infected with the hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment used to prepare and inject drugs. For some people, hepatitis C is a short-term illness; but, for more than half of people who become infected with the hepatitis C virus, it becomes a long-term, chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis C can result in serious - even life-threatening - health problems like cirrhosis and liver cancer. People with chronic hepatitis C often can have no symptoms and don't feel sick. When symptoms appear, they often are a sign of advanced liver disease. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. The best way to prevent hepatitis C is by avoiding behaviors that can spread the disease, especially injecting drugs. Getting tested for hepatitis C is important because treatments can cure most people with hepatitis C in eight to 12 weeks.
How is hepatitis C spread?
The hepatitis C virus is usually spread when someone comes into contact with blood from an infected person. This can happen through:
- Sharing drug-injection equipment - Today, most people become infected with hepatitis C by sharing needles, syringes or any other equipment used to prepare and inject drugs.
- Health care exposures
- Birth - Approximately 6 percent of infants born to infected mothers will get hepatitis C.
Sex with an infected person - While uncommon, hepatitis C can spread during sex, though it has been reported more often among men who have sex with men.
Unregulated tattoos/body piercings
- Sharing personal items - People can get infected from sharing glucose monitors, razors, nail clippers, toothbrushes and other items that may have come into contact with infected blood, even in amounts too small to see.
Hepatitis C is not spread by sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing or sneezing. It also is not spread through food or water.
What are the symptoms of acute hepatitis C?
- Jaundice (yellow skin or eyes)
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach pain
- Dark urine
- Light-colored stool
- Joint pain
You should get tested for hepatitis C if you:
- Are 18 years of age and older (get tested at least once in your lifetime)
- Are pregnant (get tested during each pregnancy)
- Currently inject drugs (get tested regularly)
- Have ever injected drugs, even if it was just once or many years ago
- Have HIV
- Have abnormal liver tests or liver disease
- Are on hemodialysis
- Received donated blood or organs before July 1992
- Received clotting factor concentrates before 1987
- Have been exposed to blood from a person who has hepatitis C
- Were born to a mother with hepatitis C
HCV Medications | Hepatitis C Online (uw.edu)
Treatment is recommended for all people, unless pregnant, with acute or chronic hepatitis C (including children three and older and adolescents). Current treatments usually involve just eight to 12 weeks of oral therapy (pills) and cure more than 90 percent with few side effects. In Kentucky, treatment can be obtained without sobriety or advanced liver disease.