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How the Hepatitis C Virus Spreads

How is hepatitis C spread to others?

The hepatitis C virus is spread when the blood of someone with hepatitis C mixes with the blood (or body fluids that contain blood) of someone else. Here are a few of the ways the hepatitis C virus is spread:

Hepatitis C Can Be Spread by Blood Transfusions Before 1992Hepatitis C Can Be Spread by TattooingHepatitis C Can Be Spread by Sharing Tools Used to Take DrugsHepatitis C can be spread when blood is exchanged through sex

Blood transfusions

  • Before 1992, blood transfusions, blood products, or transplanted organs sometimes contained hepatitis C. Since then, all blood products are tested for hepatitis C. So now it’s very rare for it to be caused by a blood transfusion

Sharing tools used to take drugs

  • This includes prescription medication and street drugs like heroin or cocaine. Sharing drug injection equipment ("works") such as needles, syringes, cotton, or water with an infected person can spread the virus. This can even include sharing straws for inhaling cocaine

Dialysis machines

  • Being on a dialysis or kidney machine that was not properly cleaned between uses can result in exposure to someone else's blood

Mother to child

  • A mother with hepatitis C can pass the virus to her unborn child. About 4 out of every 100 babies who are born to mothers with hepatitis C will get the virus

Contact with blood on the job

  • Althought it is rare, some workers who come into contact with blood have a risk of exposure to hepatitis C. Doctors, dentists, and emergency workers (such as firemen and policemen) can get hepatitis C if they are accidentally stuck by a needle or another sharp instrument that came into contact with the blood of someone with hepatitis C

Contact with blood in a doctor's office

  • Some people have gotten hepatitis C when doctors or dentists used the same instruments they had just used on a previous patient with hepatitis C and didn’t do a good job of cleaning them

Sexual Contact

  • When blood is exchanged through sex — without a condom — hepatitis C infection can occur

Sharing sharp instruments

  • Tattoo and body piercing needles that were not cleaned well can carry the virus. So can tattoo ink
  • Acupuncture needles that haven’t been sterilized can carry the virus
  • Manicure and pedicure tools that haven’t been sterilized can carry the virus

Sharing personal items

  • Razors, toothbrushes, and nail clippers can carry the virus

In fact, anything with blood on it that is shared can spread hepatitis C. This includes blood from cuts, nosebleeds, or even blood from a woman’s period.

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What DOES NOT spread hepatitis C?

You cannot get hepatitis C by:

  • Holding someone’s hand or shaking hands
  • Ordinary touching, such as patting someone’s shoulder
  • Hugging or kissing
  • Being coughed on or sneezed on
  • Eating food or drinking water
  • Sharing knives, forks, spoons, or drinking glasses
  • Sharing plates or dishes
  • Breastfeeding
  • Using a swimming pool

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How can you prevent hepatitis C?

Unfortunately, there’s no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. But there are many ways you can protect yourself and others from getting it:

  • Never share needles
  • If you are getting a tattoo, be careful. Make sure the artist uses new inkpots and equipment for every customer
  • If you are a healthcare or public safety worker, always be very careful when handling needles and other sharp instruments
  • Do not share personal items like razors and toothbrushes that might have blood on them
  • Practice safe sex. Always use a condom
  • Wear gloves if you have to touch another person’s blood
  • Cover open sores or wounds
  • Do not use or share cocaine straws or anything that may have blood on it

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