Last Updated on June 4, 2020 by Shuvani Sanyal, MD
Hepatitis Transmission – Hep C:
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 infections and diseases, 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!
Many people share pierced earrings (nose rings, whatever) or try them on at the store. Read this link below and rethink that habit. I’ve yet to see one counter with a disinfecting option. It is very important to teach children not to share pierced items also.
How long does the Hepatitis C virus survive outside the body? https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/C/cFAQ.htm
The CDC is recommending a whole population group (age group) is tested. The therapy has improved greatly over the years but even reading about it or attending one of their support group meetings is an eye opening. If you find out you do have the virus, please take care of yourself as it can ruin your life and/or kill you.
Hi PhilC –
I totally agree; people should be wary of sharing piercings or trying them on before purchase and before thoroughly cleaning them at home. Hepatitis C, in particular, is a very resilient virus and can reside on surfaces for up to 7 days after initial contact! Many other virus, bacteria, and parasites are not that stable and degrade immediately upon leaving the body and experiencing a temperature change; hepatitis C (and B) don’t happen to be one of the more volatile viruses, which makes it imperative one understands transmission potential and maintains a sanitized environment in all piercing and tattooing type of environments.
Great point; thanks so much for your response!
I forgot to mention, you are also correct – the CDC is recommending anyone born between the years of 1945 and 1965 be tested. Because Hep C is often asymptomatic for years and until it has done extensive damage, the only way to know for sure is to be tested!
Thanks again for your comment.