Importance of preventive measures

Hepatitis C is a serious disease. Most people with hepatitis C end up with a chronic form of the infection. Without treatment, many of these people develop liver disease, so preventing hepatitis C is important. Find out about hepatitis C vaccine efforts and what you can do to avoid getting hepatitis C.

Is there a hepatitis C vaccine?

Currently, no vaccine protects against hepatitis C. But research is ongoing. A promising study is currently researching a possible vaccine for both hepatitis C and HIV.

However, there are vaccines for other hepatitis viruses, including hepatitis A and hepatitis B. If you have hepatitis C, your doctor may suggest that you get these vaccines. That’s because hepatitis A or B infection can lead to further complications when treating hepatitis C. Preventing other forms of hepatitis is especially important if your liver has already been damaged.

Avoid infection

While we wait for a vaccine to be developed, you can help protect yourself from getting or spreading the infection. The best way to avoid hepatitis C is to avoid activities that put you in contact with infected blood.

Hepatitis C is transmitted through blood contaminated with the virus. It’s most often transmitted by sharing needles used to inject drugs. The virus can also be transmitted by having sex with an infected person or by sharing personal items contaminated with infectious blood.

The virus is not spread through breast milk, food, or water. It’s also not spread by casual contact with an infected person, such as hugging, kissing, or sharing food or drinks.

With personal care, don’t share

Razors, toothbrushes, and other personal care items can transfer hepatitis C-infected blood from one person to another. Avoid using someone else’s items for personal hygiene.

If you have hepatitis C, make sure you:

  • don’t donate blood or semen
  • keep any open wounds bandaged
  • tell your doctors and other health providers about your infection

Don’t share needles

Using injected drugs can lead to hepatitis C infection if you share needles, syringes, or other equipment with an infected person. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who inject street drugs are most at risk of getting hepatitis C.

If you’ve ever shared a needle with someone else, even if it was just once a long time ago, you’re still at risk of hepatitis C. Your best bet is to get tested so you know if you need treatment. Talk to your doctor about testing for hepatitis C, or read more about the hepatitis C blood test.

If you currently use injectable drugs, consider joining a treatment program. Your doctor can help you find one. And if you continue to inject drugs, be sure to avoid sharing needles or other equipment.

Use caution with tattooing

Licensed businesses that offer tattooing or body piercing are generally thought to be safe from hepatitis C. But getting a tattoo, piercing, or even acupuncture can lead to hepatitis C infection if the equipment was not properly sterilized.

If you choose to get a tattoo or piercing, check that the facility has a valid permit or license. If you receive acupuncture, ask to see an acupuncture license from your practitioner.

Practice safe sex

Sexually transmitted hepatitis C is not common, but it is possible. If you have sex with someone who has the virus, certain behaviors can increase your risk. These include practicing unsafe sex, such as not using a condom. You also raise your infection risk if you have more than one sexual partner.

Also, if you have a sexually transmitted disease or HIV, you’re more likely to contract hepatitis C.

Prevent or treat

You can’t prevent hepatitis C with a vaccine today, but you can reduce your chances of becoming infected with the virus through preventive measures.

If you do have hepatitis C, take heart. Medications such as Harvoni and Viekira can cure this disease. Talk to your doctor to find out if one of these treatments could be a good option for you.