For information on hepatitis in general, see Hepatitis A on this website.
Identify the hazard and assess the risks
All work areas and tasks should be assessed.
- Find out whether hepatitis C is a risk in your occupation. For more information on Hepatitis C, see below. Contact your union for further advice if necessary.
- Determine how many and which workers could be exposed.
- Carry out inspections, observe, evaluate current existing precautions.
- Talk to members of your work group - ask co-workers whether they are experiencing any health problems about which they are concerned. If any of your members have symptoms of hepatitis C, advise them to contact their doctor immediately. There is a test available, though it may take two to three months (or sometimes longer) from the time of infection before a blood test can detect evidence of hepatitis C infection. This test cannot determine if the person has become a carrier.
- Investigate any past illnesses or complaints, analyse first aid, injury and illness and workers compensation records kept by your employer.
At present there is no vaccine available to prevent a person from being infected with hepatitis C
- Ensure that all potentially exposed workers are provided with adequate information and training on the causes and symptoms of the disease, work practices and procedures and the use and maintenance of any protective clothing and equipment.
- Ensure that workers are provided with adequate protective clothing and equipment, and that it is maintained so that it remains effective.
- Health care workers should follow standard infection control guidelines.
- Wear disposable gloves if you give someone first aid or clean up blood or body fluids.
What to do if someone is diagnosed with Hepatitis C
- Advise the worker to consult with their doctor who will monitor their condition and, if necessary refer them to a specialist. If there is a chance that the infection was due to work exposure, ensure that a workers compensation claim is made (go to the Tool Kit for more information, or contact your union).
- Advise the worker to completely cover any cut or wound with a wound dressing.
Can the infected worker continue to work?
Yes, the infected worker can continue to work - State and Federal Law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of hepatitis C infection in employment (and other areas). People with hepatitis C have the same rights as other people and should not be discriminated against, and if someone feels they has been discriminated against because of hepatitis C infection, they should contact the Equal Opportunity Commission.
The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission Enquiries Line: 1300 292 153, or alternatively, check their website. The Federal government's Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission also has a website. On this site there is information for workers: Work Out Your Rights. The site has information sheets, FAQs, where to get more information, how to get help, and more.
There are no specific OHS regulations on hepatitis.
However, employers have a duty under the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act (2004) to provide and maintain for employees, as far as practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This includes providing a safe system of work, information, training, supervision, and where appropriate personal protective equipment. The employer also has the duty to monitor conditions at the workplace and to monitor the health and safety of employees.
Hepatitis C is a notifiable disease under the Health (Infectious Diseases) Regulations 2001 - medical practitioners and others must notify the health authorities.
What are the health effects of Hepatitis C?
Often people infected with hepatitis C virus do not become ill. Others may experience a minor 'flu-like' illness not requiring treatment. When first infected some people may find their urine becomes dark and their eyes and their skin may turn yellow (jaundice). Hepatitis symptoms may disappear within a few weeks but this does not necessarily mean that the infection has also disappeared. A blood test can show whether the infection is still present.
When liver inflammation lasts more than six months the illness is called chronic hepatitis C.
The symptoms of chronic hepatitis C may be:
- Mild to severe lethargy (tiredness).
- Loss of appetite.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Soreness in the upper right part of the abdomen (under the ribs).
- Pain in the joints.
Over 70 per cent of people infected may continue to carry the virus in their blood and become long term or chronic carriers. Figures indicate that at least 20 per cent of people who are chronic carriers will develop cirrhosis - scarring of the liver. This process may take 20 years to develop. People with cirrhosis are at risk of developing liver cancer.
It is believed that carriers of hepatitis C remain infectious throughout their lives and may be capable of spreading the virus to others..
There is currently no cure for hepatitis C, but treatment with antiviral medicines can decrease inflammation in the liver although there are some major side effects.
The hepatitis C virus is present in the blood of an infected person. If infected blood enters another person's blood stream, that person may catch the virus. In an occupational sense, this may occur through:
- Piercing the skin with equipment which has not been properly cleaned and sterilised (eg 'needlestick injuries');
- The virus entering the body through minor cuts and abrasions if contact is made with infected blood, blood products, or sometimes other body fluids.
However, in Australia the majority of people with hepatitis C are injecting drug users infected through the sharing of needles and syringes and other injecting equipment.
Workers who are most at risk, therefore, include:
- Nurses, and other health care workers exposed to blood
- Workers in drug rehabilitation units
- Emergency service workers - Ambulance, fire brigade and police
- First Aiders
For Further Information:
- The Victorian Government has produced a number of guidance documents on hepatitis. These are all available on the Infectious Diseases Epidemiology & Surveillance website
- A particularly useful guide is the Blue Book - Guidelines for the control of infectious diseases.
- The National Code of Practice for the Control of Work-related Exposure to Hepatitis and HIV (blood-borne) Viruses [NOHSC: 2010 (2003) 2nd Edition], was declared in December 2003, and is available to download from the Safe Work Australia. The code provides practical guidance for the management of exposure to HBV, HCV and HIV in the workplace. The code is designed to be applicable to all workplaces.
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
Last amended September 2014