Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) is the most common chronic blood borne infection in the United States (CDC, 2004). Approximately 1.8 percent of the United States' population has been infected with HCV, according to NHANES III (1988-94). This amounts to 3.9 million people, 2.7 million of whom are chronically infected. The actual numbers may be higher as the estimates do not include homeless, institutionalized, or incarcerated populations. Such populations may not be as likely to seek out or receive medical care and hence, may not be diagnosed.
Hepatitis C is a blood borne pathogen; the most prevalent mode of transmission is sharing needles or syringes to inject illicit drugs. Blood transfusions pose an extremely limited risk today, but for those patients who received a blood transfusion prior to July 1992, the risk was approximately 1 in 200 transfused units. Sexual transmission of hepatitis C does occur, but does not appear to be an efficient mode of transmission. Other potential risks for transmission include long-term hemodialysis, sharing straws for intranasal cocaine use, vertical (mother to infant) transmission, occupational blood exposure, and tattooing or body piercing with non-sterilized equipment. Hepatitis C is not spread via casual contact, kissing, sneezing, hugging, breast milk, and sharing glasses or utensils.