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Is hepatitis C contagious?

Fact Checked

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) testing positive

Story at-a-glance -

  • You can get hepatitis C if blood from a person who has this illness or carries the virus makes contact with your blood
  • At least 67% to 91% of people with HCV succumb to liver-related diseases

The common misconception is that hepatitis C can be passed on from one person to another through a simple sneeze or cough, or casual physical contact, such as holding hands. But that is simply not true.1 Hepatitis C is contagious, yet it is not transmitted in the way that most people believe it is.

Hepatitis C can spread through infected blood

You can get hepatitis C if blood from a person who has this illness or carries the virus makes contact with your blood.2 This is why blood transfusions and organ transplants are among the most common methods in which the virus spreads. However, the risk of HCV spreading through these channels has significantly decreased since 1992, due to better blood screening procedures in the U.S.3

Nevertheless, there are other media by which hepatitis can rapidly spread. One is through the use of IV drugs. According to a 2009 study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, injection drug users (IDUs) account for a significant portion of hepatitis C infections worldwide.

In fact, 90% of new HCV infections globally (54% in the U.S.; 90% in Australia; and 72% in Canada) come from injection drug use. What’s more, the study noted that the majority of chronic hepatitis C infections in developed countries come from injection drug use.4 Aside from sharing needles, other methods that can cause this disease to spread include:5

  • Acupuncture
  • Unsanitary tattoos
  • Surgical or diagnostic instruments
  • Organ transplants
  • Sexual contact (although the risk is very low)

According to WebMD, hepatitis can spread via sexual intercourse, although the risk is quite low.6 One study found that HCV is transmitted in only 1 out of every 190,000 instances of sexual contact.7 However, there are factors that can increase a person’s risk of acquiring this infection through intercourse, such as:8

  • Being HIV-positive
  • Having more than one sexual partner
  • Engaging in rough sexual intercourse or anal intercourse
  • Having intercourse while you’re on your period

Other less common ways the virus is transmitted

Hepatitis C may live in an infected person’s tears, saliva or semen,9 but transmission through these fluids is very rare,10 and the most risky medium is still infected blood. Keep in mind, though, that using an infected person’s personal items, particularly those that may have been in contact with his or her blood, can put you at risk. So if you know someone with this illness, do not share or use his razor or toothbrush.11

Hepatitis C may spread among a household, though this occurs very infrequently. It usually spreads because of direct exposure to the infected person’s blood.12

Mortality risk: Can you die from hepatitis C?

Between 70% and 90% of people infected with the virus do not clear it from their body, meaning they become chronic HCV carriers.13 This can be potentially problematic, because chronic hepatitis C infection can lead to other severe and life-threatening liver problems, namely:14,15

  • Cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) — This can manifest after several decades, over 20 to 30 years. It’s said that 75% to 85% of HCV infected individuals develop this complication.
  • Liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma16) — According to the CDC, out of 100 people, 1 to 5 will develop this illness.
  • Liver failure — Out of 100 people, 3 to 6 will experience liver failure.

At least 67% to 91% of people with HCV succumb to these liver-related diseases.17 To help prevent any of these complications from arising, it is important to address this illness as soon as you have confirmed your diagnosis. This will help you come up with an effective treatment plan to stop the disease from targeting your liver.

MORE ABOUT HEPATITIS C

Hepatitis C: Introduction

What Is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C in Pregnancy

How Do You Get Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C Duration

Is Hepatitis C Contagious?

Hepatitis C Causes

Hepatitis C Types

Hepatitis C Symptoms

Hepatitis C Treatment

Hepatitis C Prevention

Hepatitis C Diet

Hepatitis C FAQ

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