Sharing Personal Care Items
The chances of spreading hepatitis C within your household are low but possible. To be safe, don’t share personal care items that could be contaminated with blood, Lee says. These include razors, toothbrushes, cuticle scissors, and nail clippers.
In addition, be mindful when you go to nail salons or barbershops, where the same tools are used on all customers. A study published in the November-December 2014 issue of the Journal of Public Health Management & Practice found that while regulations to safeguard the public exist in most states, it’s unknown how many businesses comply with them. Ask about tool-sterilization procedures before you frequent these establishments. You can also bring your own nail care supplies.
Contaminated Needles And Infected Blood
You can get hepatitis C from sharing contaminated needles, syringes and other injecting equipment during recreational drug use. Banknotes and straws used for snorting may also pass the virus on.
Being exposed to unsterilised tattoo and body piercing equipment can also pass hepatitis C on. Occasionally, you can get it from sharing a towel, razor blades or a toothbrush if there is infected blood on them.
Hepatitis C infection is also passed on in healthcare settings, from needle stick injuries or from medical and dental equipment that has not been properly sterilised. In countries where blood products are not routinely screened, you can also get hepatitis C by receiving a transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products.
You can prevent hepatitis C by:
- never sharing needles and syringes or other items that may be contaminated with infected blood
- only having tattoos, body piercings or acupuncture in a professional setting, where new, sterile needles are used
- following the standard infection control precautions, if youre working in a healthcare setting.
Why Getting Tested Is Important
A blood test is one of the only ways to confirm a diagnosis of hepatitis C. Additionally, hepatitis C often has no visible symptoms for many years.
Because of this, its important to be tested if you believe youve been exposed to the virus. Getting a timely diagnosis can help ensure you receive treatment before permanent liver damage occurs.
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How Does Hepatitis C Spread
Hepatitis C is spread only through exposure to an infected person’s blood.
High-risk activities include:
- Sharing drug use equipment. Anything involved with injecting street drugs, from syringes, to needles, to tourniquets, can have small amounts of blood on it that can transmit hepatitis C. Pipes and straws to smoke or snort drugs can have blood on them from cracked lips or nosebleeds. Get into a treatment program if you can. At the very least, don’t share needles or equipment with anyone else.
- Sharing tattoo or piercing tools. Nonsterile items and ink can spread contaminated blood.
- Blood transfusions in countries that donât screen blood for hepatitis C.
- Nonsterile medical equipment. Tools that arenât cleaned properly between use can spread the virus.
- Blood or cutting rituals. Sharing the tools or exchanging blood can transmit hepatitis C.
Medium-risk activities include:
Why Should I Get Treated
Hepatitis C can be fatal when left untreated.
Untreated hepatitis C can lead to scarring of the liver known as cirrhosis.
A small number of people with cirrhosis will go on to get liver failure, the only treatment for which is a liver transplant. A small proportion of people with cirrhosis develop liver cancer.
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How Can I Protect Myself And Others
- Never share injecting drug equipment or things that may have blood on them such as toothbrushes and razors. Also avoid sharing straws or rolled up banknotes if snorting drugs with others.
- Use condoms for anal and vaginal sex and latex gloves for fisting.
- During group sex, cover anything which goes from one partner to another with a fresh condom or fresh latex glove for each new person it enters. Clean objects with warm water and anti-bacterial soap before using on a new partner.
- Dont share enema equipment or pots of lubricant.
If you have hepatitis C you may want to tell a partner and explain that youre infectious. They can then decide if they’re happy to take any risks and whether they want to take precautions. That way they cannot accuse you of infecting them without them knowing that the risk was there.
Tests To Diagnose Hepatitis C
How is Hepatitis C diagnosed?
There are two main blood tests typically used to diagnose Hepatitis C. First, youll have a screening test that shows if youve ever had Hepatitis C at some point in your life. If this test is positive, youll have a second test to see if you have Hepatitis C now. These blood tests are described below:
Hepatitis C antibody test
This is the screening test used by doctors to show whether or not you have ever been exposed to Hepatitis C at some time in your life, by detecting antibodies in your blood. Antibodies are substances your body makes to fight off all kinds of infections. If you were ever infected with Hepatitis C, your body would have made antibodies to fight the virus.
If the test result is:
- Negative, it means you have not been exposed to Hepatitis C and further testing is usually not needed.
- Positive, you have had Hepatitis C at some point. However, it does not tell you whether you have it now. Youll need to see your doctor for another test the Hepatitis C RNA test to determine if the virus is still active and present in your blood.
Hepatitis C RNA Qualitative Test
This test will determine whether or not you are currently infected with Hepatitis C. It is often called the PCR test because of the process used . It looks for the genetic material of the Hepatitis C virus in your blood.
If the test result is:
Hepatitis C RNA Quantitative Test
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How Can You Avoid Hepatitis C
Right now there is no vaccination to protect you againsthepatitis C. However, you can take steps to protectyourself from becoming infected:
- Don’t use injectable drugs.
- If you use drugs, get vaccinated against hepatitis A and hepatitis B and enter a treatment program.
- Never share needles, syringes, water, or “works” for intravenous drug use, to inject steroids, or cosmetic substances.
- Handle needles and other sharp objects safely.
- Do not use personal items that may have come into contact with an infected person’s blood.
- Do not get tattoos or body piercings from an unlicensed facility or in an informal setting.
- Wear gloves if you have to touch another person’s blood. Always clean hands after removing gloves.
- Have safer sex. Each time you have sex use a condom.
For more information, see Safer Sex.
How Do You Test For Hepatitis C
A simple blood test carried out by a healthcare professional will show whether you have the virus. You may also be given an extra test to see if your liver is damaged.
If youve got hepatitis C you should be tested for other STIs. It’s important that you tell your recent sexual partner/s so they can also get tested and treated. Many people who have hepatitis C do not notice anything wrong, and by telling them you can help to stop the virus being passed on. It can also stop you from getting the infection again.
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What Are The Side Effects Of Drug Treatment
Common side effects for some treatments for hepatitis C may include the following:
Side effects are usually worst during the first few weeks of treatment. They become less severe over time. If you are having trouble dealing with the side effects of your medicine, talk to your doctor. He or she can suggest ways to relieve some of the side effects. For example, if your medicine makes you feel nauseated, it may help to take it right before you go to sleep.
How Is Hepatitis C Transmitted
The way the virus does spread is through contact with the blood of someone who is infected. Most commonly, this occurs through one of the following methods.
Intravenous drug usePeople who share needles or other supplies while injecting drugs like cocaine and heroin have a high risk for contracting hepatitis C. Even if you only used these types of drugs once years ago, there is still a chance you are infected.
Needlestick injuriesHealth care or other safety workers may come into contact with an infected persons blood if theyre accidentally stuck with a contaminated needle or other sharp object. Parents often worry about their children developing hepatitis C after finding a needle on the ground or at the beach. While thats possible, its unlikely, Dr. Nachman saysthe most commonly discarded needles are insulin needles, which typically dont contain enough blood to transmit hepatitis C. Plus, the virus can only survive about a day outside of the body.
Medical proceduresNow, donated blood and organs are screened for the hepatitis C virus. However, before 1992, that wasnt the case, so people who received blood transfusions or an organ transplant before that time might have become infected.
Tattoos and piercingsThese days, licensed and regulated tattoo parlors dont pose much of a danger. However, piercings or tattoos received in unregulated settings, such as prisons, may spread hepatitis C, Dr. Kodali says.
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How Do People Get Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C virus is found in the blood of people with HCV infection. It enters the body through blood-to-blood contact.
Until reliable blood tests for HCV were developed , people usually got hepatitis C from blood products and blood transfusions. Now that blood and blood products are tested for HCV, this is no longer the typical means of infection.
Currently, people usually get hepatitis C by sharing needles for injection drug use. An HCV-infected woman can pass the infection to her baby during birth. It is also possible to get hepatitis C from an infected person through sexual contact, an accidental needlestick with a contaminated needle, or improperly sterilized medical, acupuncture, piercing, or tattooing equipment.
How Do You Know If You Have Hepatitis C
The only way to know if you have hepatitis C is bya medical exam. There are several blood tests yourhealth care provider can use to diagnose hepatitis C.These tests can tell you:
- If it is acute or chronic infection
- If you have recovered from infection
- If you could benefit from vaccination for hepatitis A and B
In some cases, your health care provider may suggesta liver biopsy. A liver biopsy is a test for liver damage. Aneedle is used to remove a tiny piece of liver, which isthen sent for tests.
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What Won’t Transmit Hepatitis And How To Prevent It
There are 170 million cases of hepatitis C worldwide, and nearly 4 million in the United States. Prevention is important, but hepatitis C can’t be spread by sharing utensils and cups, or by casual contact.
This means that if you are diagnosed with hepatitis C and don’t know how you got ityou can’t blame your infection on sharing a fork with someone. Read on about other ways that you can’t catch or transmit hepatitis C.
Could I Get Hep C In The Hospital
Before the medical community identified hepatitis C as a dangerous virus, it existed in the blood supply that hospitals used for transfusions or organ transplants. People got hepatitis C if they received a transfusion before we knew how to test for it, says Dr. Fox. Today though, blood is screened before being administered to patients, so the odds of getting hep C from it is extremely unlikely.
There are also cases of babies who are born with hep C, but that has nothing to do with hospital itself: If a woman has the virus, there is a 6% chance her infant will be born with it, too, according to the CDC. For that reason, its important to be tested for hepatitis C if you are thinking about getting pregnant, and also during pregnancy.
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How Do I Know If I Have Hepatitis C Virus
Diagnosis of hepatitis C virus requires a blood test your doctor can order. Other blood tests can determine which subtype of HCV you have to better target your drug treatment, if needed. Your doctor will also want to know your viral load . In some patients, a liver biopsy is required to determine the level of damage.
Symptoms of chronic HCV may not appear for 2 to 3 decades after infection, so the disease may develop silently in your body for many years. This is the reason you should be tested for HCV infection, to start treatment if needed and to help protect your liver from damage.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends anyone 18 years or older be tested for hepatitis C virus at least once in their lifetime. Women should be tested for hepatitis C testing during each pregnancy. Some high risk groups may need more frequent testing, such as people who share drug preparation equipment and those on hemodialysis.
Can Vaccines Prevent The Sexual Transmission Of Hepatitis
- Hepatitis A: Measures used to prevent the spread of STDs, like the use of condoms, do not prevent hepatitis A transmission. Fortunately, an effective vaccine for preventing Hepatitis A transmission is available and is the most important measure to protect people at risk of infection.
- Hepatitis B: A hepatitis B vaccine safely and effectively protects against infection of the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices have recommended the hepatitis B vaccination for:
- Sexually active people who are not in long-term, mutually monogamous relationships .
- People seeking evaluation or treatment for a sexually transmitted disease.
- CDC also recommends hepatitis B testing and hepatitis B vaccination for
- Sexual partners of people with hepatitis B.
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You May Not Feel Any Different
If you experience symptoms of hepatitis C , it may take a few weeks or months after you finish your treatment to feel better if you notice any changes at all.
There arent many symptoms directly related to hepatitis C, says K. V. Narayanan Menon, MD, a hepatologist and the medical director of liver transplantation at Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland. Fatigue is one that seems to be fairly common. its not like with an ear infection, where you take antibiotics and it gets better. You may not see the change.
How can you be sure that youve been cured? Before your treatment, doctors test your blood for active hepatitis C. Theyll then test you again at the end of your treatment and often one more time a month later to be sure youre cured. Somewhere between 95 to 99 percent of people are considered cured after just one round of treatment, says Dr. Menon.
Activities That Can Pass Hepatitis C
- Sharing personal care items: Shared razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers and other household items that might have infected blood on them can pass hepatitis C.
- Condomless sex: In general, sexual transmission of hepatitis C is not common. The risk increases when certain factors are present, such as condomless anal sex, HIV, sexually transmitted infections, sex where blood is present, group sex and chemsex . Thus, the risk of transmission may be higher among some groups of men who have sex with men .
- Transmission from a parent to child during pregnancy or childbirth : The risk of perinatal transmission is about 5%.
- Needlestick injuries: An injury caused by a needle that punctures the skin can pass hepatitis C because of the possibility of exposure to hepatitis C from contact with blood in the needle or syringe.
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What Are The Chances Of Getting Hepatitis C From Sex
Hepatitis C can spread through sexual intercourse, but it’s rare. And it’s extremely rare among monogamous couples. In fact, the CDC considers the risk of sexual transmission between monogamous couples so low that it doesn’t even recommend using condoms. Also, there’s no evidence that hepatitis C is spread by oral sex. But you should avoid sharing razors, toothbrushes, and nail clippers, and sex during menstruation.
If you have HIV or if you have multiple partners, you should take precautions. Using condoms will protect you and your partners.
You Can Still Get Hep C Again
Hepatitis C is unlike many viruses you may be familiar with, since you can still become re-infected even after youve been cured. And, unfortunately, there is no vaccine on the horizon.
The antibody you get from hepatitis C is not protective, says Menon. Just because you got it once doesnt mean you cant get it again.
To avoid getting re-infected, its important to take all the steps youd take to avoid the virus in the first place. For example, dont share razors or syringes, and avoid sharing toothbrushes with people whove been diagnosed with hepatitis C. Its also a good idea to ask your partner to be tested for hepatitis C. The risk of sexual transmission is very low, but if your partner has hepatitis C they should get treated as well, says Menon.
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Getting Tested Is The Only Way To Know If You Have Hepatitis C
A blood test called a hepatitis C antibody test can tell if you have been infected with the hepatitis C viruseither recently or in the past. If you have a positive antibody test, another blood test is needed to tell if you are still infected or if you were infected in the past and cleared the virus on your own.
- Are 18 years of age and older
- Are pregnant
- Currently inject drugs
- Have ever injected drugs, even if it was just once or many years ago
- Have HIV
- Have abnormal liver tests or liver disease
- Are on hemodialysis