Hepatitis C virus
(HCV) can be transmitted in some of the same ways as HIV and hepatitis B. It is
usually transmitted by direct blood-to-blood contact. In the past, many people
got hepatitis C from being given blood products in a medical procedure – for example
blood transfusion during trauma or surgery, and treatment for haemophilia – before
screening and sterilisation were introduced in the UK in 1991.
common route of transmission in the UK is using non-sterile needles and other equipment
for injecting drugs. HCV can survive in syringes for several weeks. Sharing
equipment for drug sniffing or snorting (such as straws or banknotes) has also
been shown to be a risk. Needles, syringes and other equipment used to inject
drugs, and equipment used to sniff drugs, should never be shared.
Sexual transmission of hepatitis C is
less common, but it does occur. Over the past several years there has been a
large increase in the number of HIV-positive gay and bisexual men who have acquired
hepatitis C through sexual transmission in the UK and elsewhere. However, sexual
transmission of hepatitis C between heterosexual people and between
HIV-negative gay men appears to be rare.
Though study results have been
inconsistent, there appears to be an association between sexual transmission of
HCV and several factors including anal sex, rough sex, fisting, group sex,
having other sexually transmitted infections and using non-injected recreational
drugs during sex.
Condoms can reduce the risk of sexual
transmission of hepatitis C as well as HIV, hepatitis B and other sexually
transmitted infections. Using gloves for fisting may also help prevent
hepatitis C transmission. In group sex situations, don’t share sex toys (or
cover them with a new condom for each use) or pots of lubricant. Change condoms
and gloves between partners. Clean any hard surfaces, such as benches or
slings, between uses.
Some HIV-positive gay men try to only
have unprotected sex with other men who are also HIV positive (often called ‘serosorting’).
However, this does not protect against hepatitis C, hepatitis B, or other sexually
transmitted infections. HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) also offers no
protection against hepatitis C.
transmission of hepatitis C is uncommon, but the risk is increased if the
mother is also HIV positive. Having a high HCV viral load increases the likelihood
that a mother will pass on hepatitis C to her baby.
It is also possible to acquire hepatitis
C through personal care items such as razors, toothbrushes and manicure tools
that may come into contact with blood. These items should not be shared. New,
sterile needles should be used for piercings, tattooing and acupuncture.
There is no
risk of transmission through normal social contact, such as sharing crockery or
cutlery, or touching someone with hepatitis C. Blood spills from someone with
hepatitis C should be cleaned up using undiluted household bleach. Scratches,
cuts and wounds should be carefully cleaned and covered with a waterproof
dressing or plaster.
currently no vaccine to protect against hepatitis C.
hepatitis A and B, having hepatitis C once does not mean you are immune from
getting it again, so even if you have completed successful treatment, you can
be re-infected if you are exposed to hepatitis C again. It is also possible to
be re-infected with a different strain of hepatitis C.