The Ways Hepatitis C Spreads


Hepatitis C is something those who have it often don't know they have. Its a disease that spreads in ways, years ago before it was well known, that weren't fully realized. Many older Americans may have it and don't know it, as a result. It has spread to about 130-150 million people worldwide who have been infected.

Around 30,000 are infected a year with Hepatitis C in the US. Many, about 15-25%, who are initially infected with Hepatitis C will clear the infection.

Others are at risk for going on to develop serious chronic health problems, which can be fatal, if not treated.

How does it spread?

For Hepatitis C to spread, blood is usually involved. For transmission to occur, usually blood from one person, who is infected with the virus, enters another person.

1. Sharing Needles or Syringes 

Most infections in the US occur from injection drug use - sharing needles or other equipment used for drug use. As such, 1 in 3 young adults (ages 18-30) who use Intravenous Drugs are infected. Older users, including those who have quit, have even higher rates, up to 70-90%. The risk accumulates with each year of use, but needle safety can prevent transmission.

There are also cases around the world where needles have been reused resulting in infections. A campaign to treat (and eliminate) Schistosomiasis in Egypt spread Hepatitis C. This led to 10% of those 15-59 years of age having Hepatitis C, after needles were re-used (in an unsuccessful campaign).

2. Needlestick 

Needlesticks have led to Hepatitis C in some healthcare workers. The risk from a patient positive with Hepatitis C is about 1.8%. It depends on what the injury was (a hollow bore needle, a scalpel etc) and depends on if the patient had virus in his/her blood. Some may face a higher risk depending on these risk factors.

For more information on management, please discuss with your workplace's Occupational Safety or check CDC resources.

3. Being Born

If your mother has Hepatitis C when you are born, you have a 6 in 100 chance of being infected. Now that there is treatment, hopefully these numbers will drop.

4. Sharing personal items with blood exposures

Hepatitis C in rare cases has spread through sharing personal items that have small amounts of blood - such as as razors or toothbrushes. There is also a concern that snorting cocaine and sharing, say, a straw can lead to Hepatitis C transmission, but the data on the risk is limited.

5. Sex

For some, Hepatitis C is a sexually transmitted diseases, particularly for some in the gay community. Risk of contracting Hepatitis C from sex increases if you have HIV. The risk of transmission from sex, though, is often low, with many longterm couples never transmitting.. 

6. Rare cases: organ donation, blood transfusions, hemodialysis

Before 1992, Hepatitis C was transmitted by Blood Transfusions as donors and blood were not tested for Hepatitis C.

Risk was even higher before 1987 when efforts were made to reduce the risk of the donor pool. Transmission can also occur through organ donation, or potentially through semen donation.

Dialysis used to place patients (and sometimes health professionals) at risk before better safety measures were in place.

Does this mean mosquitoes are ok?

Yep, mosquitoes, in this case, aren't a problem. Hepatitis C has not been found to be transmitted by mosquitoes or other insects.

What happens if Blood spills?

The blood, even dried blood, needs to be cleaned up carefully with gloves and preferably with diluted bleach (1 part bleached to 10 parts water).

Can you get Hepatitis C twice?

Prior Hepatitis C infection (which was treated or cleared without treatment) will not protect against later infection - even with the same genotype.

Is there a vaccine?


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