A hepatitis C infection can lead to serious liver damage, so it’s important to know all of the ways it can be transmitted. It can be tricky: More than 40 percent of people with hepatitis C cannot identify the source of infection.

Keep reading to find out all the ways hepatitis C can be transmitted and what increases your risk.

The most common way to contract hepatitis C is through exposure to blood that contains the hepatitis C virus (HCV). This might happen if you:

  • use a needle or syringe that someone with hepatitis C has already used
  • are stuck by a needle that has come into contact with blood that contains HCV
  • share razors, toothbrushes, or other personal items that may have touched blood that contains HCV
  • have had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you can also get hepatitis C from sexual contact, though the risk is low. Certain sexual behaviors are riskier than others when it comes to increasing your chances of contracting the virus.

You increase your risk for contracting hepatitis C if you:

  • have sex without condoms with more than one sexual partner
  • have a sexually transmitted disease or HIV
  • engage in sexual activity that could cause bleeding

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) advises using condoms during sex to help prevent the spread of infection.

The CDC notes that infectious diseases like hepatitis C may be transmitted by receiving tattoos, body piercings, or body art from unregulated settings with poor infection control standards.

Commercially licensed tattooing businesses are generally thought to be safe. More informal settings that offer tattooing or piercing services may not have adequate safeguards to help avoid the spread of infections.

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 precautions at home:

  • Clean any blood spills thoroughly. Blood on a surface can still be infectious, including dried blood.
  • Wear rubber gloves when cleaning blood. Use 1 part household bleach to 10 parts water.

Mothers with hepatitis C can pass the infection to their children, but this only occurs in about 6 percent of cases. If your mother had hepatitis C when you were born, you may have a slightly higher risk for getting the virus and you should be tested.

Hepatitis C often has no visible symptoms for many years. A blood test is one of the only ways to confirm a diagnosis.

It’s as important to know how hepatitis C can’t be transmitted as it is to know how you may get the virus. The CDC confirms that you can’t contract 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 when they cough or sneeze
  • breastfeeding (babies can’t get hepatitis C through a mother’s breast milk)

Knowing your risk factors for contracting HCV will help you prevent transmission of hepatitis C. If you believe that you may have hepatitis C, talk with your doctor about testing and seek early treatment. This can help reduce your chance of liver damage.