One of the most common misconceptions about hepatitis C is that if a person infected with it sneezes or coughs in front of you, then the virus can transfer to you. But this is not the case, because hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus, meaning it primarily spreads or is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact.1
During the 1970s and 1980s, one of the most common routes of HCV infection was from transmission through blood transfusions, with rates of post-transfusion hepatitis ranging from 8 to 10 percent.
Upon the implementation of effective blood screening tests in 1990, these rates significantly went down to less than 5 percent (1990 to 1993), and then to less than 1 percent after 1993.2
Today, however, there are still numerous ways to get hepatitis C. What’s alarming about this disease is that virtually any source of blood, including blood-stained products like used razors or needles, can potentially carry the virus.3
At least 40 percent of patients who suffer from this disease cannot identify their source of infection.
Common Methods of How Hepatitis C Is Transmitted
Today, recreational drug use — particularly those that are injected in the bloodstream — is the most common way method for this virus to spread. Intravenous (IV) drug use is responsible for about 30 to 40 percent of all identified cases of hepatitis C.4
This is because drug users tend to share unsterilized needles, syringes or other equipment that may be contaminated with HCV.5
Tattoos, piercings and even acupuncture are also found to contribute to the spread of the virus. If you recently had any of these procedures performed in an unsanitary establishment, you should have yourself screened for this disease.6
People who work in health care settings, such as those who facilitate blood transfusions, may have a high risk of getting this illness.7 Remember that the virus can live on surfaces and disposal containers, so properly handling all materials that touched blood samples is crucial to preventing the spread of this disease.
Sharing razors, toothbrushes and other personal hygiene items that may have touched an infected person’s blood may also put you at risk of this infection,8 so if you know someone who has this illness, refrain from using or sharing his or her personal care products.
Can You Get Hepatitis C From Sexual Intercourse?
Although there is a chance for hepatitis C virus to be passed on during sex, the risk is substantially low, especially in heterosexual (male and female) couples. The risk is higher during anal sex between two men, which is why using condoms is recommended. Having multiple sexual partners may also increase your risk, so make sure to use condoms if you’re not in a monogamous relationship. In addition, hepatitis C cannot be passed on through:
• Casual contact
• Holding hands
Mother to Infant HCV Transmission Is Relatively Low
Being born to a mother with hepatitis C can increase your risk, but it does not necessarily mean that you will immediately acquire the virus. HCV is rarely passed from a pregnant woman to her baby, with only 6 out of 100 infants born to HCV-positive mothers becoming infected with the virus. However, this risk increases if the mother has both HIV infection and HCV.9
There is also very little risk of passing on the virus through breastfeeding, unless the mother’s nipples have cracks or open sores.10 If this happens, you should stop breastfeeding until the wounds have completely healed.