How Is Hepatitis C Transmitted?
Knowing how hepatitis C is spread can help you avoid becoming infected with the virus. Hepatitis C infection can lead to liver damage, so it’s important to know all of the ways it can be transmitted.
Click through the slideshow to learn more about how this infection is transmitted. Learn what risk factors increase your chance of exposure.
Transmission via Blood
There are several ways that you might contract hepatitis C. But the most common way to get it is through blood. This can happen if the blood of someone who has hepatitis C enters your own bloodstream.
This might happen if you:
- use a needle or syringe to inject drugs into your body that someone who has hepatitis C has already used
- are injured by a needle stick in a lab or other healthcare setting, if that needle has come into contact with blood infected by hepatitis C
- share razors, toothbrushes, or other items for personal hygiene that may have touched an infected person’s blood
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you can get hepatitis C from sexual contact. But certain sexual behaviors are riskier than others when it comes to increasing your chances of becoming infected.
You increase your risk of contracting hepatitis C if you:
- have more than one sexual partner
- have an STD (sexually transmitted disease)
- have HIV
- engage in sex that’s “rough” or could cause bleeding
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) advises condom use during sex to help prevent the spread of infection.
Tattooing or Piercing
The CDC notes that infectious diseases like hepatitis C can be transmitted through unregulated settings that provide tattooing, body piercing, or body art.
Commercial tattooing businesses that are licensed are generally thought to be safe. But more informal settings that offer tattooing or piercing services may not have adequate safeguards to help avoid the spread of infections.
Precautions at Home
If your skin is directly exposed to the blood of someone who has hepatitis C, you may contract the virus. This situation is rare, but it’s still important to take some precautions at home.
Clean any blood spills thoroughly. Blood on a surface can remain infectious. This includes blood that has already dried.
Use rubber gloves when cleaning blood. The CDC recommends mixing bleach with water. Use one part household bleach to 10 parts water.
The Genetics Connection
Did your mother have hepatitis C when you were born? If so, according to the Mayo Clinic, you have a higher risk for getting the virus yourself.
The NIH advises that those with known risks for getting the virus talk to their doctor. Ask for a test for hepatitis C. The infection often has no visible symptoms for many years; a blood test is one of the only ways to confirm a diagnosis.
Myth Busting: How Hepatitis C Is NOT Spread
It’s as important to know how hepatitis C can’t be transmitted as it is to know how you may get the virus. There are several myths about how you can get hepatitis C.
The CDC confirms that you can’t get hepatitis C through:
- eating with utensils shared by someone with hepatitis C
- holding hands, hugging, or kissing someone with hepatitis C
- being near someone with hepatitis C after they cough or sneeze
- breastfeeding (babies can’t get hepatitis C through a mother’s breast milk)
The hepatitis C virus is spread via blood. It’s not spread through water, food, or touching.
When you know your risk factors for contracting the virus, you can be better informed about preventing transmission.
If you believe that you may have hepatitis C, don’t delay: talk to your doctor, and seek early treatment. This can help reduce your chance of liver damage.
- Hepatitis C: Definition. (2013, August 13). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved November 11, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hepatitis-c/DS00097
- Hepatitis C Information for the Public. (2012, October 22). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved November 11, 2013, from http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/c/cfaq.htm
- Hepatitis C: Prevention. (2013, August 13). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved November 11, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hepatitis-c/DS00097/DSECTION=prevention
- Hepatitis C: Risk Factors. (2013, August 13). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved November 11, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hepatitis-c/DS00097/DSECTION=risk%2Dfactors
- Hepatitis C: Symptoms. (2013, August 13). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved November 11, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hepatitis-c/DS00097/DSECTION=symptoms
- What I need to know about Hepatitis C. (n.d.). National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). Retrieved November 11, 2013, from http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/hepc_ez/