Background: To determine the incidence of hepatitis C virus (HCV) seroconversion, health care workers reporting an occupational exposure with blood or other risk-prone body materials from a patient known to be seropositive for HCV antibody were enrolled.
Methods: HCV seroconversion within 6 months of a reported exposure was assessed by second-generation enzyme immunoassay and immunoblot assay.
Results: From January 1992 through December 1993, 331 (51%) hollow-bore needlesticks, 105 (16.5%) suture needle or sharp object injuries, 85 (13%) mucous membrane contaminations, and 125 (19.5%) skin contaminations were reported. Four HCV seroconversions were observed after hollow-bore needlesticks (1.2%; 95% CI 0.3% to 3.0%); no seroconversions occurred after other routes of exposure. Blood-filled needlesticks and source patient coinfection with HIV appeared to be associated with a higher risk of seroconversion.
Conclusions: The risk of HCV seroconversion after occupational exposure appears to be low but is not negligible. Aggressive implementation of universal precautions is important for preventing risk-prone exposure, but safer devices are also needed.