People who inject drugs have an increased risk of hepatitis C, which is a bloodborne viral liver infection.
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), acute hepatitis C infections became much more common from 2010 to 2020. This is largely due to the increased use of injection drugs such as opioids. In 2020, 66% of new hepatitis C cases reported the use of injection drugs.
Acute hepatitis C often causes no noticeable symptoms and sometimes gets better on its own, but many people with acute hepatitis C go on to develop chronic hepatitis C, which can cause severe liver damage. Early diagnosis and treatment are important for preventing life threatening complications.
If you inject drugs, understanding and managing the risk of hepatitis C is essential. Read on to find the answers to common questions about hepatitis C from injection drug use and needles.
Hepatitis C is a bloodborne infection that can pass from one person to another through blood. Most cases of transmission happen when people share needles or other drug injection or preparation equipment.
When someone injects drugs into their body, their blood will get on the needle they use. They may also get blood on other drug equipment, such as their syringe, cooker, or tie. There may be small amounts of blood present, even if it’s not visible.
If someone else uses the same needle or drug equipment, they may transfer the other person’s blood into their body — along with any bloodborne infections that person has.
The risk is
Hepatitis C may also be passed from one person to another through:
- shared use of improperly sterilized drug injection equipment, surgical equipment, tattoo needles, body piercing needles, or other devices that pierce or cut skin
- pregnancy and childbirth, from the parent to the child
- sexual contact without a barrier method, particularly anal or vaginal sex
People with hepatitis C also have an increased risk of HIV coinfection. HIV is another bloodborne infection. HIV can cause hepatitis C to progress faster and result in more complications.
If you inject drugs, take these steps to lower your risk of contracting hepatitis C or passing it to other people:
- Never share needles or other drug equipment with another person.
- Use new sterile needles, syringes, and drug equipment for each injection.
- When possible, avoid syringes with detachable needles.
- Only handle your own drug equipment, and keep it separate from others.
- Clean any surface well before you set drug equipment down on it.
- Thoroughly clean your hands before and after injecting drugs.
- Thoroughly clean the injection site before injecting drugs.
- Apply a sterile pad to the injection site after injecting drugs to limit bleeding.
- Carefully dispose of all used needles and other used drug equipment.
Talk with your doctor or social service provider to learn where you can find new, sterile needles and safely dispose of used needles in your community. Many communities have syringe service programs (SSPs), syringe exchange programs (SEPs), or needle exchange programs (NEPs) that also provide links to other services, such as drug use counseling and hepatitis C screening and treatment.
If you inject drugs recreationally, treatments are available to help you quit. Quitting can help prevent hepatitis C and other potentially life threatening complications from recreationally injecting drugs.
To learn about treatment options and support resources for substance use:
- Talk with your doctor.
- Visit FindTreatment.gov.
- Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
There’s currently no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C.
It’s possible to have hepatitis C without knowing it. Oftentimes, no noticeable symptoms appear until the condition has already caused liver damage. That’s why it’s important for people at high risk of hepatitis C to get regularly tested.
If you’ve ever injected drugs and shared needles or other drug equipment, the
If you’re currently injecting drugs and you ever share needles or other drug equipment, you should get tested for hepatitis C on a regular basis. Talk with a doctor to learn how often you should get tested.
Your doctor will also encourage you to get tested for HIV, which shares many of the same risk factors as hepatitis C. It’s possible to be coinfected with both hepatitis C and HIV.
Visit GetTested to find a testing facility near you.
If you test positive for hepatitis C, your doctor can help you learn about your treatment options.
Multiple antiviral medications are available to treat hepatitis. In most cases, treatment can cure the infection. Early treatment is important for lowering your risk of potentially life threatening complications.
Until the infection is cured, it’s important to take steps to avoid passing the virus on to others.
If you don’t have health insurance that covers hepatitis C treatment, let your doctor know. They may know about patient assistance programs that can help cover the cost of your care.
Although treatment can cure hepatitis C, it’s possible to get reinfected with the virus after treatment.
It’s important to take steps to prevent reinfection. This includes not sharing needles or other drug equipment.
Stopping the use of recreational injection drugs can also lower your risk of reinfection. Talk with your doctor to learn more about treatment options and support resources to help you quit.
Hepatitis C is a bloodborne viral infection that can cause severe liver damage. It most commonly passes from one person to another through shared needles or other drug injection equipment.
If you inject drugs, it’s important to always use new sterile needles and other drug equipment. Avoid sharing needles or other drug equipment with anyone else.
If you’ve ever injected drugs and shared drug equipment, talk with your doctor about getting tested for hepatitis C. If you’re currently injecting drugs and sharing drug equipment, they will advise you get tested regularly.
Early diagnosis and treatment for hepatitis C are important for preventing serious complications.
Treatment usually cures hepatitis C, but it’s possible to get reinfected. Your doctor can help you learn how to avoid reinfection following treatment.