Hepatitis C: Transmission and prevention

Preventing hepatitis C transmission

Hepatitis C is transmitted by infected blood. Avoiding contact with blood is the best way of avoiding hepatitis C infection. 1

To avoid infection:

  • Sharp and pointed personal hygiene objects should not be shared. For example, do not share nail scissors, nail clippers, razors.
  • Do not share toothbrushes.
  • People who use drugs should only ever use their own needles and other drug paraphernalia.
  • Condoms should be used by those who frequently change sexual partners, by men who have sex with men and for sexual practices which may involve a risk of bleeding, such as anal sex, fisting and intercourse during menstruation.2
  • Take care when treating bleeding wounds. Wear protective gloves.

Infection cannot take place if blood comes into contact with undamaged skin. Infection can only occur if blood containing hepatitis C penetrates the skin, for example if there is a small wound.

To protect yourself from other infectious diseases, you should avoid any direct contact with blood in general.

Care should be taken with dried blood: the virus can survive outside the body for several days, depending on the environment, and even longer under certain conditions. How long the virus remains infectious during this time is not absolutely clear. The use of an antiseptic disinfection agent or an alcohol solution, e.g. 1-propanol, is recommended.

In medical settings

Hepatitis C can be transmitted through medical equipment that is not fully sterilised and by the re-use of syringes, needles and other equipment.

Consistent practice of infection control measures in medical and dental settings is essential for the prevention of hepatitis C transmission. All staff should receive training in infection control and infection control performance should be reviewed regularly to ensure that best practice is being followed.

Infection control practices are designed to protect both patients and healthcare workers. If you have any concerns about infection control practices as a patient do not hesitate to raise your concerns with the medical staff treating you.

There is no vaccination against hepatitis C

As yet, vaccination is only possible against viral hepatitis A and B.

The hepatitis A and B vaccines are also recommended for anyone with hepatitis C, as an additional infection with these viruses could lead to more rapid progression of hepatitis C infection.

This information was originally adapted from Hepatitis C: Understanding a silent killer, published by the European Liver Patients Association. It was updated in 2016.

References

  1. World Health Organization (WHO) Prevention & Control of Viral Hepatitis Infection: Framework for Global Action. WHO, available at www.who.int/topics/hepatitis, 2012
  2. EASL Clinical Practice Guidelines: Management of hepatitis C virus infection. J Hepatol 55:245-264, 2011