Chapter 3Infectious Diseases Related To Travel
Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), a spherical, enveloped, positive-strand RNA virus, approximately 50 nm in diameter.
Transmission of HCV is bloodborne and occurs mainly through sharing drug-injection equipment, from transfusion of unscreened blood, or from untreated clotting factors. In developing countries, unsterile medicinal and other injection practices account for many HCV infections. Although infrequent, HCV can be transmitted through other procedures that involve blood exposure (such as tattooing) and during sexual contact.
Approximately 2%–3% (130–170 million) of the world’s population has been infected with HCV. In many developed countries, including the United States, the prevalence of HCV infection is <2%. The prevalence is higher (>2%) in several countries in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Union, and certain countries in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia; the prevalence is reported to be highest (>10%) in Egypt (Map 3-05). The most frequent mode of transmission in the United States is through sharing drug-injection equipment. Travelers’ risk for contracting HCV infection is generally low, but travelers should exercise caution when traveling to countries where the prevalence of HCV infection is ≥2%, as the following activities can result in blood exposure:
- Receiving blood transfusions that have not been screened for HCV
- Having medical or dental procedures
- Activities such as acupuncture, tattooing, public shaving, or injection drug use in which equipment has not been adequately sterilized or disinfected, or in which contaminated equipment is reused
- Working in health care fields (medical, dental, or laboratory) that entail direct exposure to human blood
Most people (80%) with acute HCV infection have no symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they may include loss of appetite, abdominal pain, fatigue, nausea, dark urine, and jaundice. Of those who develop chronic HCV infection, the most common symptom is fatigue; severe liver disease develops in about 10%–20% of infected people. HCV is a major cause of cirrhosis and hepatocellular cancer and is the leading reason for liver transplantation in the United States.
Two major types of tests are available: IgG assays for anti-HCV antibodies and nucleic acid amplification testing to detect HCV RNA in blood (viremia). Assays for IgM, to detect early or acute infection, are not available. Approximately 75%–85% of people who seroconvert to anti-HCV, indicative of acute infection, will progress to chronic infection and persistently detectable viremia. False-negative antibody test results, while rare, may occur early in acute infection, usually in the first 15 weeks after exposure and infection.
Treatment for hepatitis C is rapidly evolving. Currently, sustained virologic response (SVR), which is considered a cure, is achieved in 50% of patients taking the previous standard treatment of pegylated interferon and ribavirin for 24–48 weeks. In May 2011, 2 new protease inhibitors, telaprevir and boceprevir, were approved to treat hepatitis C in the United States. When these drugs were added to a regimen of pegylated interferon and ribavirin in clinical trials, SVR rates increased to 75% for those also receiving telaprevir and to 63% for those also receiving boceprevir among people with HCV genotype 1 (the most common genotype in the United States). Treatment is most effective for people diagnosed within the first year of infection. However, this is difficult as serologic markers of acute infection are lacking and most acute cases are only mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic.
No vaccine is available to prevent HCV infection, nor does immune globulin provide protection. Before traveling, people should check with their health care providers to understand the potential risk of infection and any precautions they should take. When seeking medical or dental care, travelers should be alert to the use of medical, surgical, and dental equipment that has not been adequately sterilized or disinfected, reuse of contaminated equipment, and unsafe injection practices (such as reuse of disposable needles and syringes). HCV and other bloodborne pathogens can be transmitted if instruments are not sterile or the clinician does not follow other proper infection-control procedures (washing hands, using latex gloves, and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and instruments). There are still a few areas of the world, such as parts of sub-Saharan Africa, where blood donors may not be screened for HCV. Travelers should be advised to consider the health risks if they are thinking about getting a tattoo or body piercing or having a medical procedure in areas where adequate sterilization or disinfection procedures might not be practiced. Travelers should be advised to seek testing for HCV upon return if they received blood transfusions or sustained other blood exposures for which they could not assess the risks.
CDC website: www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HCV
- Alter MJ. Epidemiology of hepatitis C virus infection. World J Gastroenterol. 2007 May 7;13(17):2436–41.
- Averhoff FM, Glass N, Holtzman D. Global burden of hepatitis C: considerations for healthcare providers in the United States. Clin Infect Dis. 2012 Jul;55 Suppl 1:S10–5.
- Cornberg M, Razavi HA, Alberti A, Bernasconi E, Buti M, Cooper C, et al. A systematic review of hepatitis C virus epidemiology in Europe, Canada and Israel. Liver Int. 2011 Jul;31 Suppl 2:30–60.
- Global Burden Of Hepatitis C Working Group. Global burden of disease (GBD) for hepatitis C. J Clin Pharmacol. 2004 Jan;44(1):20–9.
- Jacobson IM, McHutchison JG, Dusheiko G, Di Bisceglie AM, Reddy KR, Bzowej NH, et al. Telaprevir for previously untreated chronic hepatitis C virus infection. N Engl J Med. 2011 Jun 23;364(25):2405–16.
- Kershenobich D, Razavi HA, Sanchez-Avila JF, Bessone F, Coelho HS, Dagher L, et al. Trends and projections of hepatitis C virus epidemiology in Latin America. Liver Int. 2011 Jul;31 Suppl 2:18–29.
- Madhava V, Burgess C, Drucker E. Epidemiology of chronic hepatitis C virus infection in sub-Saharan Africa. Lancet Infect Dis. 2002 May;2(5):293–302.
- Poordad F, McCone J, Jr., Bacon BR, Bruno S, Manns MP, Sulkowski MS, et al. Boceprevir for untreated chronic HCV genotype 1 infection. N Engl J Med. 2011 Mar 31;364(13):1195–206.
- Prati D. Transmission of hepatitis C virus by blood transfusions and other medical procedures: a global review. J Hepatol. 2006 Oct;45(4):607–16.
- Shepard CW, Finelli L, Alter MJ. Global epidemiology of hepatitis C virus infection. Lancet Infect Dis. 2005 Sep;5(9):558–67.
- Shimakami T, Lanford RE, Lemon SM. Hepatitis C: recent successes and continuing challenges in the development of improved treatment modalities. Curr Opin Pharmacol. 2009 Oct;9(5):537–44.
- Sievert W, Altraif I, Razavi HA, Abdo A, Ahmed EA, Alomair A, et al. A systematic review of hepatitis C virus epidemiology in Asia, Australia and Egypt. Liver Int. 2011 Jul;31 Suppl 2:61–80.
- Simonsen L, Kane A, Lloyd J, Zaffran M, Kane M. Unsafe injections in the developing world and transmission of bloodborne pathogens: a review. Bull World Health Organ. 1999;77(10):789–800.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Rd
Atlanta, GA 30333
TTY: (888) 232-6348
- Contact CDC-INFO
- Travel Notices
- Find a Clinic
- Disease Directory
- Information Centers
- For Travelers
- Common Travel Health Topics
- Adopting a Child from Another Country
- Adventure Travel
- Bug Bites
- Business Travel
- Counterfeit Drugs
- Cruise Ship Travel
- Cold Climates
- Deep Vein Thrombosis
- Fish Poisoning in Travelers
- Food and Water
- Health Care Abroad
- High Altitudes
- Hot Climates
- Humanitarian Aid Workers
- Jet Lag
- Last-Minute Travel
- Long-Term Travel
- Mass Gatherings
- Medical Tourism
- Mental Health
- Motion Sickness
- Natural Disasters
- Pregnant Travelers
- Road Safety
- Senior Citizens
- Sex Tourism
- Sick After Travel
- Study Abroad
- Sun Exposure
- Swimming and Diving
- Travelers' Diarrhea
- Travelers with Chronic Illnesses
- Travelers with Weakened Immune Systems
- Traveling with a Disability
- Traveling with Your Pet
- Visiting Friends or Relatives
- Water Disinfection
- Advice for Colleges, Universities, and Students about Ebola in West Africa
- Traveler Survival Guide
- CDC-TV Videos
- Common Travel Health Topics
- For Clinicians
- Travel Industry
- For Travelers
- Yellow Book
- Mobile Apps
- RSS Feeds
Before you travel make sure you speak with your doctor.