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New CDC Testing Recommendation for Hepatitis C (HCV)

June 6, 2012 – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently proposed a new recommendation that all adults born between 1945 and 1965 be tested for Hepatitis C (HVC). The CDC has proposed this recommendation to help increase the proportion of persons with HCV infection who are aware of their infection and who receive appropriate clinical care and preventative services to prevent the long-term effects of HCV. The new recommendation will be finalized later this year.

As a first responder to an accident or crime scene, fire fighters' risk of exposure to Hepatitis C is increased. Fire fighters are exposed through contaminated blood or body fluids, and the virus can be contracted at a fire, accident or crime scene, through broken glass, jagged metal, a needle stick, or performing other life-saving procedures.

It is important that all first responders be familiar with protection procedures and take precautions on every call. Education and training are the best ways to limit the risk of contracting HCV.
Hepatitis C is a life-threatening viral liver infection that affects more than four million Americans and is also is the most common bloodborne infection in the United States. If left untreated, HCV can be fatal. HCV is also the leading cause of liver failure and can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and to liver cancer.

Current CDC recommendations focus on testing people with known HCV risk factors, however, HCV often shows no symptoms until it has done significant damage to the liver, which is why it is important to get tested. The majority of those infected with HCV are Baby Boomers, the generation between ages 47 to 67. Most of those who acquired the infection in their teens and early 20s are unaware of their illness because they are not clinically ill. New treatments are available and the CDC believes a one-time blood test would identify 800,000 infections and treatment would prevent 120,000 deaths.

If you think you’ve ever been exposed to Hepatitis C, it is essential to get an initial baseline test because you may be putting others at risk. If you are a carrier, you can transmit HCV to your immediate family, the fire fighters you work with, and to anyone who calls for emergency help. The test must be repeated after any exposures. As part of the IAFF/IAFC Fire Service Joint Labor Management Wellness-Fitness Initiative (WFI) and NFPA 1582, Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments, Hepatitis C testing must be included as part of your annual medical exam.

Below are some general guidelines to follow when in the field:

• Always use gloves: if there is blood or body fluids, assume it’s infectious.

• Disposable medical gloves should be worn during any patient contact when potential exists for contact with blood, body fluids, non-intact skin or other infectious material.

• Use a mask and eye shields: if blood or body fluids could splash onto your face, use eye shields and mask or full face shield - facial protection may be afforded by using both a face mask and eye protection, or by using a full face shield. If you suspect any airborne particles, mask the patient or yourself.

• Use a gown or fire fighting gear: fluid-resistant gowns are designed to protect clothing from splashes. Structural fire fighting gear also protects clothing from splashes and is preferable in fire, rescue, or vehicle extrication activities.

• If blood or body fluids could splash on your head or feet, use appropriate barrier protection. Under certain circumstances, head covers and/or shoe covers should be required to protect these areas from potential contamination. Structural fire fighting gear (boots, helmets) may be used for barrier protection.

• All personal protective clothing used for blood and body fluid protection shall meet the requirements of and be certified to NFPA 1999, Standard on Protective Clothing for Emergency Medical Operations

For more information, visit the IAFF web site or CDC web site.
 


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