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Hepatitis C Transmission and Prevention

August 28, 2015

Hepatitis C can be found in blood. If the blood of someone who has hepatitis C enters another person's bloodstream, hepatitis C can be passed on.

Tiny quantities of blood are infectious, including traces of dried blood left on objects. These might be invisible to the eye. Hepatitis C can remain infectious outside of the body for many days.

So all the ways hepatitis C is passed on involve contact with blood:

  • Using equipment for injecting drugs that has already been used by someone else. As well as needles and syringes, the equipment can include filters, cookers, water, acidifiers, alcohol swabs and tourniquets.

    To avoid transmission, clean, sterile equipment should be used and never shared.

  • Sharing other kinds of drug paraphernalia, such as pipes for smoking drugs and straws for snorting them.

    To avoid transmission, don't share.

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  • Using tattooing equipment or materials that have already been used on another person.

    Sterile, single-use needles and inks should be used. This is standard practice in reputable businesses.

  • Re-using other tools used to pierce the skin, for example in acupuncture, body piercing or surgery.

    Clean, sterile equipment should be used. This is standard practice in reputable businesses and in medical settings.

  • Sharing personal items that might have blood on them, such as razors, nail clippers and toothbrushes.

    To avoid transmission, don't lend or borrow these items.

  • Through sex that results in contact with traces of blood. For reasons scientists don't yet fully understand, this mostly affects gay men living with HIV.

    Using a new condom with each partner reduces the risk of hepatitis C and prevents other sexually transmitted infections.

  • From a birth parent to the baby, during pregnancy or childbirth.

    Getting the birth parent's hepatitis C treated makes transmission less likely.

  • Through blood transfusions and organ transplants, only when they have not been screened for hepatitis C.

    In the U.S., a thorough screening policy has been in place since 1992.

The sexual transmission of hepatitis C is a confusing and complicated area. For years, scientists didn't think it occurred; cases haven't been seen in the sexual partners of heterosexual people living with hepatitis C. But sexual transmission is definitely happening between gay men living with HIV. Contact with minute traces of blood during unprotected sex is thought to be involved.

The common point about blood-to-blood contact indicates that normal social contact is entirely safe. There is no risk of transmission through coughing or sneezing; kissing or hugging; or sharing eating utensils. Hepatitis C is not spread through food or water.

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. (The vaccines for hepatitis A and hepatitis B protect against different viruses.)

Copyright © 2015 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

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