Last Updated on June 4, 2020 by Shuvani Sanyal, MD
Hepatitis C is transmitted from blood-to-blood. This doesn’t mean just touching someone else’s blood. It means getting blood infected with the hep-C virus directly into your bloodstream. While there’s still a lot we don’t know about how hep-C infections happen, there are two important points to remember:
- You can’t get hep-C through casual contact with an infected person, like shaking hands or eating off of the same plate.
- All blood should be treated with great care; avoid direct contact with it as much as possible.
Shared Injection Equipment
Shared injection equipment is the number one cause for new hep-C infections. There are a lot of places where contamination can take place. Hep-C is usually spread by sharing drugs, water, cottons, cookers, syringes and ties, by getting blood on injection surfaces, where someone might later place a needle, cotton, etc.
Hep-C screening of blood products began in 1987; screening of blood began in 1992. If you received blood products before 1987, or a blood transfusion before 1992, you’re at a great risk and should consider getting tested. Today, the risk of getting hep-C from blood to blood products is almost gone since both are now screened.
A pregnant woman can pass hep-C to the baby during birth, but the rate is low, about 5 in 100 births. However, it is more likely to occur if the pregnant woman is also HIV positive, about 17 in 100 births. We don’t know why the risk of hep-C transmission is greater when a pregnant woman is also HIV positive, but it may be due to the higher amount of hep-C virus that is usually present in hep-C/HIV co-infected individuals.
Hep-C can be transmitted through sexual contact if blood is present and exchanged. It is not unusual for blood to be a part of sex, although we don’t always see it. If you’re not using protection, there is a higher risk for blood to be exchanged during:
- sex when a woman is having her period or pregnant
- anal sex, where tiny tears in the anal tissue can cause bleeding
- S&M practices
- rough sex
- sex in the presence of other sexually transmitted diseases and infections, such as herpes
There are a lot of normal ways you can come into contact with someone else’s blood, but there are questions about whether any of them can cause infection. You may want clear answers, but the truth is, the experts just don’t know for certain. A list of possible hep-C infection risks where blood can be present follows:
- sharing household items such as razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers and files
- use of non-sterile medical equipment, including acupuncture needles, dental tools and hemodialysis machines
- non-sterile tattooing and body-piercing, including sharing ink from the same container
- sharing snorting or smoking devices, like straws or crack pipes
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Did the information above help you? Are you living with hep-C and would like to share your perspective? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!