Hepatitis C Prevention: Is Hepatitis Contagious?
What Is Hepatitis?
According to The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 3.2 million people in the United States are infected with Hepatitis C and don't know it. The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a contagious liver infection that can cause inflammation in the liver.
Acute hepatitis C occurs in the first six months after you’ve been infected, although you may not experience any symptoms. Some people can fight off the infection without any long-term health problems.
Chronic hepatitis C occurs when the virus stays in the body untreated, causing liver damage or liver cancer over time.
How Is Hepatitis C Spread?
Hepatitis C spreads through blood contact with a person infected with HCV. The most common cause of hepatitis C is from intravenous drug users sharing needles with an infected person. The infection also can be transmitted through tattooing needles that aren't sterilized. Mothers can potentially spread the virus to their babies at birth, but not through breastfeeding.
Although chances are low, the infection can be spread through contact with fresh or dried blood, which can remain infectious for up to 16 hours. When cleaning stray blood, wear rubber gloves and use a mixture of one part bleach to 10 parts water.
Ways You Cannot Contract Hepatitis C
Hepatitis isn’t airborne like the flu or common cold. That means it can’t be passed through sneezing, coughing, or sharing your food with someone else. Likewise, you can’t get it through kissing or hugging someone with the virus.
However, there’s a small risk of infection if you share personal care items that come in contact with infected blood like a toothbrush or razor.
Symptoms of Hepatitis C
People with hepatitis C may not know they have it because it rarely produces any symptoms during the first six months of infection. If the disease is left untreated, the following symptoms may develop:
- abdominal pain
- dark-colored urine or light-colored stools
If the disease becomes chronic, it can affect the liver, leading to symptoms like:
- abdominal fluid
- a star-shape vein pattern on your abdomen
Sex and Hepatitis
According to The Mayo Clinic, the risk of infection from sexual contact with an infected person is very low if both partners are monogamous. However, you should use a condom if you and your partner have had multiple sexual relationships or sex with a known infected person. Avoid sharing any personal care items that have possibly come in contact with blood.
Are You at Risk of Contracting Hepatitis C?
According to The CDC, recreational injectable drug users are at higher risk of catching and spreading hepatitis C if they share needles. Getting a tattoo with improperly cleaned needles can also spread the infection.
Other people who are at greater risk include:
- those with HIV
- health care workers
- recipients of blood or blood products prior to 1987
- people who have received a donor organ or hemodialysis for kidney failure
Travelling and Hepatitis
Unlike hepatitis A, which can be spread through contact with fecal matter, your risk of acquiring hepatitis C while travelling is minimal. You can’t get the virus abroad unless you come into contact with infected blood or receive blood products that contain the virus.
How to Prevent Hepatitis C
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. The best way to prevent it is avoiding any situations in which you can come into contact with someone’s blood.
- Avoid sharing needles and be careful when disposing of used ones.
- Don’t share your toothbrush, razor, or nail clippers with someone with HCV.
- Make sure that healthcare professionals wear a new set of gloves before they examine you.
- Use a condom if you aren’t in a monogamous relationship and have multiple sexual partners.
- If you’re getting a tattoo, be sure that the instruments being used come from a sealed package. This indicates that they’ve been sterilized.
Treatment for Hepatitis
Not all hepatitis C patients need treatment. Some just need regular checkups and blood tests to monitor liver function. In some cases, an anti-viral medication may be prescribed for several weeks to rid your body of the virus.
If you think that you have come into contact with HCV-infected blood, visit your doctor immediately to be checked for the possible treatment. The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommends screening for those at elevated risk and baby boomers—adults born between 1945 and 1965.
- "Hepatitis C Information for the Public." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 12 Oct 2012. Web. Retrieved 12 Nov 2013 from http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/c/cfaq.htm.
- Picco, M.D., Michael F. "Hepatitis C: How common is sexual transmission?" Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 10 December 2011. Web. Retrieved 12 Nov 2013 from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hepatitis-c/AN00701.
- Gayle H Shimokura, BS and Paul R Gully, MB CHB FRCPC FFCM. Risk of hepatitis C virus infection from tattooing and other skin piercing services, Blood-borne Pathogens Group. Bureau of Communicable Disease Epidemiology, Laboratory Centre for Disease Control, Ottawa, Ontario. Web. Retrieved 12 Nov 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3327932
- "Hepatitis C." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 13 August 2013. Web. Retrieved 12 Nov 2013 from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hepatitis-c/DS00097/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs.
- Screening for Hepatitis C Virus Infection in Adults. (June 2013). U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Retrieved November 15, 2013, from http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/uspshepc.htm