The hepatitis C virus is an infection that causes inflammation of the liver. It is a serious condition that needs to be treated to avoid outcomes like cirrhosis and liver cancer.

It’s a bloodborne virus, meaning that it can only be transmitted through contact with blood that carries the virus. It is important to identify the ways you can come into contact with hepatitis C. This knowledge can help you practice healthy habits to avoid contracting the virus.

Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about hepatitis C transmission to protect yourself and others.

You can contract hepatitis C if your blood comes into contact with the blood of someone who has the virus. This contact allows the virus to enter your bloodstream.

The virus, once in your body, will target your liver and may cause symptoms such as fever, muscle aches, fatigue, lack of appetite, and stomach pain. However, you may not notice symptoms right away. Hepatitis C is diagnosed with a blood test and can be treated.

Hepatitis C can be transmitted through:

  • shared needles
  • unsterilized piercing or tattooing equipment
  • childbirth, if the birthing parent has hepatitis C
  • sexual contact involving exchange of blood
  • shared personal items like razors or toothbrushes
  • medical procedures involving blood transfusions that took place before 1992
  • needle-stick injuries in a healthcare setting

In these instances, traces of blood carrying the hepatitis C virus can enter the bloodstream.

Medical establishments in the United States take extra precautions to reduce the chances of hepatitis C transmission, such as testing blood before using it for transfusions and sterilizing all reusable medical supplies.

You can take precautions by avoiding sharing needles, sterilizing any shared equipment, and using barrier methods when engaging in sexual contact.

This is possible but not likely. You can contract the virus through any open wound that comes into contact with the blood of someone who has hepatitis C. That includes an open scratch or small cut. Cleaning and covering cuts can help you avoid any possible contact.

Carefully consider whether to use another person’s hygienic items, such as razors, nail clippers, toothbrushes, or personal medical equipment. You can contract hepatitis C if you share items that may have come into contact with traces of blood that carry the virus.

While this type of transmission is lower risk than other ways of contracting the virus, it’s a good practice to avoid sharing these kinds of products. Note that the other person’s blood may be on the item even if you do not see it.

If you must share these items, clean and sanitize them before use to avoid contracting hepatitis C or other infections.

Additionally, avoid coming into contact with someone else’s used bandages or period products such as pads and tampons.

Injectable drug use is the most common way of contracting hepatitis C among people in the United States and Europe. When you inject yourself with drugs, the needle breaks the surface of your skin and comes into contact with your blood.

You should never share needles with others and should always use a new or sanitized needle if you are injecting it into your skin.

If a needle is reused without proper sterilization, the residue from the previous injection remains on the needle and can enter the other user’s bloodstream.

Dispose of used needles or syringes by using a sharps bin.

Make sure facilities that provide tattoos, piercings, or other services that pierce your skin’s surface use new or sanitized equipment for each individual.

It may be possible to contract hepatitis C by coming into contact with dried blood. Researchers in a 2014 study looked into how long hepatitis C can live at room temperature and found that the virus can remain infective for up to 6 weeks.

Objects that have come into contact with blood must be discarded or cleaned with antiseptics — and it’s essential to use antiseptic products at the right concentration to ensure they are effective. Diluted antiseptics will not clean used objects properly.

The safest approach is to avoid using any product that may have come into contact with someone else’s blood.

The hepatitis C virus is passed through contact with blood carrying the virus.

To minimize the risk of contracting this virus, avoid sharing needles or personal care items like razors or toothbrushes. If you get a tattoo or piercing, ensure that the establishment uses new or sanitized equipment to avoid hepatitis C exposure. Use condoms or other barrier methods during sexual contact.

If you suspect you have hepatitis C or have been exposed to it, get a blood test as soon as possible. The hepatitis C virus is treatable, and early treatment leads to a better health outcome.