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
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
• 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
• 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
• 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.