Some professions bring a risk of workplace exposure to viruses such as hepatitis C.
No matter the profession, workplace injuries are always a concern. But for health care workers and emergency first responders, including nurses and doctors, EMTs and firefighters, those occupational hazards include the risk of contracting viruses which, if undetected, may result in a lifetime of serious health issues.
Until recent improvements in treatment, hepatitis C was one of those viruses. A bloodborne pathogen, the hepatitis C virus is transmitted almost exclusively through exposure to infected blood, said Dr. Brian McMahon, medical and research director of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Liver Disease and Hepatitis Program. It is a chronic inflammatory disease that ranges in severity from mild to serious. Those infected with the virus often don’t realize it until they start to get sick, which may not happen for many years.
“It’s a silent disease until something happens,” he said. Early symptoms, such as extreme fatigue, body aches or headache, can easily be attributed to lifestyle or another less serious illness and thus are often ignored. Yet left untreated, hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, increase the patient’s risk of developing liver and other types of cancer and increase the risk of heart attack or stroke, McMahon added.
Two to three percent of baby boomers born between 1945 and 1965 have chronic hepatitis C and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all these persons be tested one time for hepatitis C. This testing will be paid for by insurers.
While hepatitis C can be transmitted through blood-to-blood contact, it’s important to note that it cannot be transmitted by casual contact. A person cannot contract the virus through kissing, hugging, sneezing, coughing, breastfeeding, sharing food and drink or sharing eating utensils.
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