Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness. – James Thurber
The hardest part of having hepatitis C was living with the fear that I could infect someone else. This week’s blog discusses hepatitis C transmission—how to avoid getting it, or if is too late, how to keep others safe.
Blood-to-blood contact is how hepatitis C transmitted. Injection drug use is the most common way people acquire hepatitis C. Sharing needles, syringes, and the paraphernalia used for injection use, including the surface on which the drug is prepared, is highly risky.
Other ways hepatitis C is spread:
- Contaminated blood, blood products, and organs before July 1992, or from infected blood received in another country
- Occupational exposure to blood, particularly needlestick injuries
- Transmission during birth from a hepatitis C-positive mother
- Sexual transmission rate is low for monogamous heterosexual partners. The risk increases in the presence of sores, blood, or torn tissue. The risk is much higher if there is another sexually transmitted infection, such as HIV or hepatitis B. Men who have sex with men are at greater risk of hepatitis C transmission.
Less commonly, hepatitis C can be spread:
- Sharing personal items contaminated with infected blood, such as razors or toothbrushes. Hepatitis C is rarely spread in households, but this is a potential risk.
- During healthcare procedures that involve blood-to-blood contact, especially in foreign countries.
- Hepatitis C may be spread via drugs that are inhaled or smoked, if there is blood passed on the straw or pipe.
- Tattoos and body piercing, especially outside of a commercial setting.
If you have hepatitis C, then it is your responsibility to take care not to infect others. For me, this was the biggest burden of having hepatitis C. The thought that I could accidentally infect someone weighed on me whenever I cut myself. I started to bleed after a scab steamed open in a bathhouse in Turkey and I nearly freaked out trying to clean it up. I was sure that I had infected all of Istanbul.
It took years of working in this field for me to see that hepatitis C did not spread as easily as I had feared. As a nurse, I spent a lot of time reassuring patients that they did not pass hepatitis C to family members after cutting themselves during food preparation, or similar scenarios.
The best way to protect others is to minimize blood-to-blood contact. If you have hepatitis C:
- Do not donate blood, organs, tissue, or semen.
- Clean blood spills with bleach.
- Cover cuts and sores with bandages.
- Do not share personal items such as toothbrushes, razors, cuticle scissors, or any items that might have blood on them.
- Talk to your sex partner(s) about the fact that you have hepatitis C. Use appropriate protection if you or your partner(s) are concerned about hepatitis C transmission. Do not engage in sexual practices where they might be contact with blood, such as vampire play or sex with chainsaws. (I made this up. If you are having sex with chainsaws, I don’t want to know about it. I did not make up vampire play.)
Hepatitis C is not spread casually. You can’t get it or give it by sneezing, hugging, holding hands, coughing, sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses, or through food or water. Kissing is safe too, as long as you aren’t both bleeding or kissing chainsaws.
This post first appeared on Lucinda Porter’s blog at Every Day Health, Navigating Hepatitis C