Hepatitis C: Transmission and prevention

Overview

The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is present in blood and transmission can occur when blood from a person who has the virus enters the bloodstream of another person.

Transmission is most likely to occur when a significant quantity of blood is involved (such as during a blood transfusion) or when the route to the bloodstream is direct (such as when injection equipment is shared, or during medical procedures). However, even small quantities of blood can be infectious, so objects which may have traces of blood on them (such as nail scissors, razors or toothbrushes) should not be shared.

Sexual transmission of hepatitis C is less common. HCV is sometimes present in semen and may be transmitted during anal sex. Transmission during vaginal sex is rare. Sexual practices that may involve contact with blood, such as vaginal sex during menstruation, rough anal sex or fisting do carry some risk

The virus is not transmitted through shaking hands, embracing, coughing or sneezing, using the same toilet, drinking from the same cup or eating food prepared by a person with hepatitis C. There is no reason to behave differently towards someone with hepatitis C for fear of infection.

However, items that may have traces of blood on them (e.g. razors, pincers, nail scissors, toothbrushes) should not be shared with a person who has 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.

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