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Hepatitis C virus infection: Review and implications for the dentist.

OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this report was to review the current literature on hepatitis C virus infection, with particular attention to the aspects of interest for dental health care staff.

MATERIAL AND METHODS: The authors searched original research and review articles on specific aspects of hepatitis C virus infection, including articles on virology, epidemiology, transmission, diagnosis, natural history, extrahepatic manifestations, therapy and oral aspects of hepatitis C virus infection. The relevant material was evaluated and reviewed.

RESULTS: Hepatitis C virus is an RNA virus that is present throughout the world and has major geographic variations. The virus, transmitted mainly by means of blood contact, causes chronic hepatitis in up to 80% of cases and may give rise to hepatic cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma in a significant proportion of patients. Although it is of limited efficacy, interferon alpha is currently the drug of choice in the treatment of the infection. Hepatitis C virus infection is associated with a number of extrahepatic manifestations that may include oral diseases such as lichen planus or sialadenitis. Although there are documented cases of nosocomial transmission to health care workers after percutaneous exposure, the prevalence of hepatitis C virus among dental staff members is probably similar to that in the general population.

CONCLUSION: Hepatitis C virus infection is a relatively common infection worldwide (1.4% in the US general population) that causes significant chronic hepatic disease. The dentist is thus likely to face a growing number of patients with a diagnosis of hepatitis C virus infection. For this reason it is essential for dental health care workers to be aware of the principal features of the disease and of its oral and dental implications.

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